Opinion: Where do our candidates stand on climate change?

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A dinner conversation with a closet climate change denier changed the course of Charles Hodgson’s life. (FILE PHOTO)

Special to KT by Shelley Page

A dinner conversation with a closet climate change denier changed the course of Charles Hodgson’s life.

The retired engineer, marketer and amateur etymologist describes sitting across from a dinner party guest in 2009 that vocally disputed man’s role in global warming. Hodgson felt the guest was wrong, but didn’t have the facts to debate him.

Dozens of books and scientific reports later, Hodgson read enough that he cannot remain quiet. Behind the scenes, and recently as volunteer for Ecology Ottawa, he has worked tirelessly on the issue. He was instrumental in getting Ottawa to adopt the updated Air Quality and Climate Change Management Plan, passed this spring with the backing of Mayor Jim Watson.

Hodgson believes that many of us care about climate change, and we must raise our voices during the run up to the municipal election on October 27.

That’s how I met Hodgson. I was one of hundreds of recipients of an email he recently wrote, asking Ottawa residents to meet with city council candidates to express our concerns. My hand hovered over the delete button, as numerous excuses went through my mind, mostly of the ‘I’m too busy,’ variety.

But other more disturbing and real thoughts pushed their way in, from the increasing extreme weather events around the globe to the mass species extinctions from climate change, not to mention drought-stricken lands ruled by famine, poverty and conflict. Closer to home, warming temperatures have welcomed ticks carrying Lyme disease and mosquitos spreading West Nile and the simple concern over whether my theoretical grandkids will enjoy skating rinks and ski hills.

I read further on the issue. Most of us don’t know that over 70 percent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions are associated with activities that occur in cities (according to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities). I also didn’t know that most of these emissions are controllable; almost 90 percent of Ottawa’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation and how we heat, cool and electrify our homes, offices and buildings.

For most of us, climate change isn’t a pressing issue, in the way that infill housing or transit woes are. Those issues touch us intimately: you should see the open pit that has been dug where an old cottage once was on my street. It will be the future home of two four-storey houses, with elevators. The cars racing down my street endangers the 26 kids livings on one short block.
But traffic and building practices, if done in an enlightened way, can reduce a city’s footprint.

So I didn’t delete Hodgson’s email. Instead, I committed to finding the time to meet with the candidates in Kitchissippi Ward.

Candidate Jeff Leiper, former president of the Hintonburg Community Association, was quick to respond and showed up to our meeting on his bike. He’s hoping to defeat incumbent Katherine Hobbs, in large part because he doesn’t like how she handled development issues for the ward. Leiper was well versed on local climate change issues, and noted that the city’s greenhouse gas reduction targets between 2004 and 2012 were not met and the updated plan’s revised 12-year timeline has unambitious goals to address climate change. According to the plan, greenhouse gases declined by 12 per cent at the community level and by six per cent at the corporate city level, a distant cry from targets to reach 20 per cent community and 30 per cent corporate reductions by 2012.

“Buildings under our purview have to be managed as efficiently as possible,” Leiper told me. He also feels our overall targets should be more ambitious. He stressed he’s not an anti-intensification, anti-development candidate, as some perceive. Instead, he wants communities intensified smartly and sustainably. “Good planning and development will also help us reduce our footprint,” he said.

Leiper favours a spot on the planning and transit committees. Even if he doesn’t seek a position on the environment committee he said he still plans to be vocal on the issue.

Hobbs also quickly responded to my email request and spoke of her personal commitment to the environment. She sold her Smart Car and rides her bike or takes the bus around the ward. She also plans on a spot on the city’s environment committee. When questioned at an event at Hodgson’s home, Hobbs didn’t specify how she would get Ottawa to meet its greenhouse gas targets when the plan itself is fairly vague.

I’ve played email tag with candidate Michelle Reimer and hope to connect with her, as well as Ellen Lougheed, in coming weeks.

It’s surprisingly easy to bend our candidates’ ears. Many of us complain about parking bylaws, monster infill and bus routes. Those sorts of issues impact us directly now, but if managed correctly, have the potential to impact climate change later.

Hopefully, we can find the time to mention that to our candidates when they come knocking.

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