Most council hopefuls across Peel are not putting the climate first, a few are looking to change that
On September 13, torrential rains soaked Montreal, flooding underpasses with over a metre of water, pouring into Metro stations and overwhelming municipal sewage systems. Heavy rains are not uncommon in the Montreal region, but the speed of this rainfall made it one for the record books.
For a week, Hurricane Ian has been decimating Florida and other parts of the U.S.’s southeastern coast, leaving over 491,000 customers without power, widespread flooding and a death toll of more than 100. This comes just weeks after Hurricane Fiona ravaged parts of eastern Canada.
These are the most recent examples of weather events exacerbated by climate change overwhelming local infrastructure. In Mississauga in 2013, a storm unleashed vast torrents of rain—dumping about one fifth of all of Ontario’s average annual rainfall on the city in a single evening—flooding streets, basements and stranding vehicles in the middle of typically busy intersections. When the water receded, it left behind approximately $932 million in damages.
Stranded drivers during flooding in Mississauga in 2013.
(Screengrabs from Youtube)
A new report from Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office warned that if governments do not begin the process of climate-proofing key infrastructure like roads, transit and stormwater systems, taxpayers risk losing billions of dollars as extreme weather events continue to punish urban areas.
“Municipalities are on the front lines of climate change. From forest fires to ice storms to flooding, cities and communities are where the economic and human costs of global warming hit hardest,” reads the website of the Federation of Canada Municipalities (FCM), which has made pushing Canadian cities to focus on climate mitigation a key pillar of its advocacy efforts in recent years. “Climate change is the single biggest challenge of our time. With municipalities influencing roughly half of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, it's essential to scale up local solutions to transition to a resilient low-carbon future by 2050.”
In Ontario, the Region of Peel, one of the most populous urban areas in the country, must be a key player if this sustainable transition across the province is to be successful. To date, Peel residents have seen a push and pull between the region’s two large municipalities. In Brampton, where Patrick Brown has stripped spending to the bone in an effort to achieve annual budget freezes, investments to address climate change mitigation have been all but eliminated. In 2022 the City of Brampton is spending more on a single roadway than all of its environmental initiatives combined.
Previous analysis by The Pointer found that less than 13 percent of Brampton’s $328 million Capital Budget was for climate change action in 2022. Environmental projects in the City total $41 million with only $26 million set aside.
It has been completely different in Mississauga, where the municipality’s budget for this year poured money into green initiatives and efforts to electrify the City’s transit fleet.
An analysis by The Pointer found $179.9 million in Mississauga’s 2022 budget is for projects directly linked to emissions reductions or other key climate adaptation measures. This represents about 41 percent of the overall capital projects expenditure for 2022, a figure more in line with the reality facing cities across Canada, unlike Brampton which continues to neglect badly needed investments to cope with the impacts of climate change.
The City of Mississauga is currently seeking $14 million from upper levels of government to support more conservation and sustainability projects.
With the municipal election less than three weeks away, new councils will find themselves inside chambers at city hall after October 24. They will be tasked with ensuring they make the proper decisions to protect their residents against the impacts of climate change, many of which are already inevitable, even if global emissions are drastically reduced in the coming years.
The Pointer reached out to all council candidates in Caledon and Brampton, and select wards across Mississauga, who have email addresses provided on the municipalities’ election webpages. A sweep of campaign websites found that Caledon candidates are the most concerned about climate change. Out of the 25 candidates with publicly available information in the vast, largely rural municipality, 48 percent listed the environment or climate change as a priority. That number drops to 28 percent in Mississauga and just 19 percent in Brampton.
Of 25 Caledon candidates with publicly available platforms of websites, 12 of them, or 48 percent, said the environment and climate change were a priority.
Rahul Mehta, a candidate for Ward 8 in Mississauga, responded with the most comprehensive plan of all candidates. He provided four priorities when it comes to fighting the climate crisis: Implementation of the City’s Climate Change Action Plan with increased funding; a transformation of the transportation system; development of a waste master plan; and the implementation of Green Development Standards.
“At the broadest level, I believe climate action needs to make sense to residents in the context of the everyday issues they face, as well as be led by government and corporations, not just piling the onus onto the individual, while Corporate and Community targets languish,” Mehta said.
“Municipalities, such as the Town of Caledon, have direct or indirect influence over half of Canada’s emissions and are responsible for decisions around land use planning, new development, transportation and transit that are crucial to achieving zero emissions,” said Lucrezia Chiappetta, a candidate for area councillor in Caledon's Ward 6. “I believe that we need to be bold and innovative and we need to act quickly if we want to escape the worst impacts of climate change.”
One of the biggest question marks facing Peel is the future of its rural northern reaches that abut the protected Greenbelt—much of this critical watershed provides vital habitat for countless species (many at risk) and fulfills crucial roles, like flood mitigation and carbon sequestration, which will be lost should this area be paved over. In April, the Region of Peel voted to approve its Official Plan to 2051, which included expanding the urban boundary 11,000 acres, much of it farmland and greenspace. Councillors around the regional table attempted to convince residents that their input on the plan was taken to heart and that there was little they could do because the PC government was rushing them to complete the official plan by the summer deadline—the councillors who voted in favour of the plan did nothing to push back against the destructive future it lays out for Peel. Caledon Councillor Annette Groves, who is currently running to be the town’s next mayor, was the only councillor to vote against the massive expansion of the urban boundary to the edge of the Greenbelt.
The Region is also staring down the lingering threat of Highway 413, which will cut across the south end of Caledon right below the Greenbelt.
The David Suzuki Foundation recently commissioned a poll to ask adults in Brampton, Richmond Hill, Scarborough and Etobicoke about their feelings around the Greenbelt. Of those surveyed in Brampton, 78 percent agreed with the statement: “All candidates should support greater protection of the Greenbelt.”
The overwhelming support from Brampton residents to protect the Greenbelt is represented in some of the new faces running for council.
“One thing I can promise, with all my heart, is that the Greenbelt is off limits,” said Raymond Carle, a candidate for Wards 7 and 8 in Brampton. “Urban sprawl needs to end.”
Of 46 Brampton candidates with publicly available platforms of websites, 9 of them, or 19 percent, said the environment and climate change were a priority.
In this term of Brampton council, residents have watched their elected officials refuse to take a strong stance against the provincially approved 413 highway, which will trigger vast amounts of urban sprawl, much of it along the protected Greenbelt, and release large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions at a time when the province needs to focus on reducing these dangerous outputs, not creating more. (The federal government is currently reviewing the highway plan and could cancel it.)
In 2019, Brampton council declared a climate emergency—in the same meeting it passed a motion in support of the GTA West Highway. The motion was introduced by Michael Palleschi and supported by Rowena Santos who introduced the motion to declare the climate emergency. She refused to answer questions at the time about this glaring contradiction.
Currently, Brampton and Caledon are two of the only municipalities along or near the route that have not put forward a motion to oppose the 413 Highway. Mississauga has, and Peel Region has, along with numerous other local governments.
In January of this year, Brampton Councillor Doug Whillans brought forward a motion asking Brampton to reconsider its position on the 413. The motion to simply address the issue could not even get to the floor, after a majority of council members including mayor Patrick Brown voted it down without even allowing a debate. Whillans is not seeking re-election; however, there are a number of other candidates who oppose the 413 Highway.
Similarly, in February, Groves, who is now running for mayor in Caledon, unsuccessfully brought forward a motion asking Caledon to reconsider its position. If elected mayor, Groves plans to continue opposing the 413, and many councillor candidates support her.
Of 53 Mississauga candidates with publicly available platforms of websites, 15 of them, or 28 percent, said the environment and climate change were a priority.
“My climate action plan for Caledon is to oppose the Greenbelt Highway 413 and work to protect our remaining fertile farmland in the Peel Plain as well as our protected green spaces,” said Cheryl Connors, a candidate for Ward 4 in Caledon. “Caledon has a lot of work to do to achieve 15-minute walkable communities but this goal must always be what we are working towards.”
While walkable communities may be far off for rural Caledon, it is something that can be prioritized in Brampton and Mississauga.
“I have no issue building up. I’ve worked with builders most of my adult life. Some are producing fully environmentally sustainable complexes that would make the exercise of lobbying both climate activists and developers much easier,” Carle said. “With proper city planning, we can make the Flower City Bloom.”
Many councillor candidates in Peel have green visions, but it is another question of how they plan to introduce the necessary policies, or how they will lobby upper levels of government for the necessary assistance to prepare the municipality for the changes that are coming.
There is hope among new candidates that they can break away from the status quo when it comes to leadership.
“I will be lobbying corporations, governments and individuals to pay their part in funding the climate change action,” said Stacey Ann Brooks, a candidate for city council for Wards 1 and 5 in Brampton. “By donating money to help where funds are lacking; and their own individual actions in changing their old system of operation through sustainable infrastructure, innovation, carbon offsetting activities to achieve total no Co2, emission or another matter or action that depletes our climate.”
Cleopatra Gooden-Simms, a councillor candidate for Wards 3 and 4 in Brampton, wants to establish a Climate Action Fund like the one in Toronto.
Toronto’s Climate Action Fund serves to “support community-led projects, activities and events that directly or indirectly (education/outreach) reduce the harmful emissions that contribute to climate change”.
“I think it's important for Brampton and other cities to take climate action themselves,” said Steven Lee, a councillor candidate for Wards 1 and 5 in Brampton. “We cannot merely put our hands out and expect the province and federal governments to do the work that is all our responsibilities.”
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