Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Price of Dirty Oil: Canada, the EU, the WTO and National Sovereignty

So, today was supposed to be the big day. I’ve had it circled on my calendar for some time now, so imagine my surprise when it all turned into a non-event. Of course I’m talking about today being the day when the European Union was to decide on whether or not Canada’s tar sands oil should be listed as “dirty” under the EU’s “Fuel Quality Directive” and subject to a higher carbon offset charges at the time of importation. But instead of making a decision, it looks like EU decision makers deferred, and now an ultimate decision appears to be in the hands of some kind of committee, to be made at some point in the future, maybe.

Had a positive decision been made today, the EU’s “Fuel Quality Directive” would have listed bitumen-derived oil from Canada’s tar sands as a product requiring the payment of a higher carbon offset for importation than would oil derived from conventional sources, due to the amount of pollution created through processing. The government of Canada, of course, was hoping that a negative decision would have been made, and after intensive lobbying efforts by our government and its oil industry partners, directed at EU decision makers, the end result is….more waiting.

Dirty Oil

That the production of tar sands oil is, on the whole, dirtier than conventional oil, has long been an established fact. This week, a report published in Nature Climate Change, written by renowned Canadian climate scientist Andrew Weaver, assessed the relative levels of warming which the world can expect should all economically viable deposits of bitumen in the Alberta tar sands be developed for use. Weaver’s results have been interpreted by some national media sources as the green light for tar sands development, given that Weaver’s findings show that relative to some other fossil fuel energy sources, anticipated warming from the tar sands is less than what we would expect from other fossil fuel sources (specifically, coal and shale gas).

The Toronto Star, on Wednesday February 22nd, published a great article from Weaver himself about the study; if you’re interested in finding out more about the study in Weaver’s own words, read “The oilsands are a symptom of the bigger problem of our dependence on fossil fuels”.

However, Weaver’s findings do not dispute the central fact of the matter at hand, as least as far as the European Union is concerned: oil derived from the tar sands is typically dirtier than oil derived from other conventional sources. As a result, Europe continues to consider whether anybody importing tar sands oil into Europe will be required to pay a higher offset charge for the privilege of importing dirty oil.

What this means isn’t exactly clear, on the one hand, given that hardly anybody in Europe has been importing oil derived from Alberta bitumen. On the other hand, a European decision to essentially tax Canada’s dirty oil at a higher rate than conventional oil must be very troubling for Alberta oil producers and the Conservative government they’ve bought to act in their interests.

Canada, the EU and the World Trade Organization (WTO)

As a result, over the past year or so, the Conservative government of Canada has been engaged in an intensive lobbying effort in partnership with multi-national oil corporations in an attempt to influence today’s vote. Ultimately, the lobbying initiative appears to have reaped some level of payout, as a few nations which were intensively lobbied (the U.K. and France) decided to stay away from the vote (see today’s Globe & Mail, “EU blocks passage of Canada’s ‘tar sands’ ranking”, February 23/12). So while today’s decision wasn’t the outright victory sought by Canada’s Conservative government and its oil industry partners, the lobbying effort at least has stalled the process for the time being. Of course, Canada has also threatened the EU with a World Trade Organization challenge over unfair business practices if it doesn’t ultimately get its way.

Many believe that Canada has a strong case to make at the WTO, and that the European Union’s Fuel Quality Directive is, in fact, discriminatory, because it treats a single product, oil, differently depending on where it’s manufactured. Generally speaking, this is a big no-no in the realm of international trade, and I happen to agree with many of the experts who have been watching this issue play itself out: Canada will likely be successful at the WTO in arguing for its interests, if it comes to that. Based on current international trade rules, Europe’s Fuel Quality Directive does appear to be a discriminatory trade practice.

Lawrence Herman, an international trade consultant with a respected Canadian legal firm, shared his opinion on a WTO challenge in yesterday’s Globe & Mail (“The ground war with Europe over Alberta’s Oil”, Globe & Mail, February 22 2012). Herman refers to the FDQ as being a “border tax…to compensate for carbon emitted in…production”. Herman goes on to explain the concept of “differential measures” for “like” products which compete for the same market, and concludes that in those circumstances where two products which compete for the same market, such as bitumen-derived oil and conventional oil, are so similar, it would be discriminatory to punish one in preference to the other.

Let me be clear about this: while I believe that a decision which rules discrimination will likely be the outcome at the WTO, I do not agree that it should be the outcome. Such an outcome would be, in my opinion, immoral, and an affront to the sovereignty of nations, and frankly to humanity. But sometimes, as they say, the law is an ass.

In Whose Interests?

Getting back to Herman’s opinion…think about this for a moment: If the production processes of one product leads to greater pollution outputs, it would be illegal in the opinion of the Government of Canada and in the opinion of many trade experts like Herman for that product to be penalized at the time of importation into another jurisdiction if the importation of a less-polluting product isn’t subject to the same penalty. If this is the case, what would be the incentive for polluting industries to clean up their processes? What does that say about proactive governments which are trying to encourage better business practices, and using the market as a tool for cleaner energy choices?

Clearly, what such a decision would be saying is that the environment doesn’t matter, as least as far as international trade goes, and that national states such as the European Union which want to use market forces as leverage for greener consumer choices are out of luck. And humanity is just going to have to put up with pollution generated by corporations in the pursuit of profits.

And that, to me, is absurd. And I know that I’m not the only one who views it this way. If a company is producing a product which entails the creation of more pollution, that product should be taxed at a higher rate than a similar product which doesn’t require the emission of as much pollution. That’s why Europe has been considering listing Canada’s bitumen-derived oil as “dirtier” than oil derived from conventional sources. Nations should have the ability to discriminate when its in the public’s interests to do so. And clearly, with regards to climate changing greenhouse gas emissions, the public has a considerable stake in the energy decisions made by their elected representatives.

Human vs. Corporate Rights

You can probably see where I’m going with this. Clearly, if our international trading structure doesn’t permit a nation to impose a tariff on a product whose production is more polluting than that of a similar product, what does that say about national sovereignty, or the importance of the health of people and the natural environment? We know that there’s a lot which is going wrong in this world already, but when a nation, or in this case the European Union, decides that it’s going to take a small step in an attempt to right a wrong, and finds that its ability to do so is thwarted by international trade rules which favour corporations over people, well, I ask you: is that right?

Last I looked, corporations weren’t impacted by pollution. Their children don’t suffer from respiratory diseases in the same way that human children do. Their livelihoods, for the most part, aren’t impacted by higher food prices resulting from shortages brought on by climate change. Yet we, you and I, through our elected governments, have decided to create international institutions like the World Trade Organization which will favour corporations over people and progressive national governments. That, to me, just illustrates that it’s time that we, meaning you and I, get our act together and begin to elect a government which is going to look out for our own interests.

Canada Chooses Corporate Interests Over People

In Canada’s case, it’s clear that the Conservative government has chosen to champion multinational corporations over people in its pursuit of thwarting the European Union’s imposition of the Fuel Quality Directive. We Canadians will have a chance in a few years to tell the Conservative Party what we think of their decisions to favour corporations over people. Let’s not forget the taxpayers dollars which were spent by Canada’s Conservative government in an effort to influence today’s vote, or how Canada’s Conservatives tried to hide their partnerships with Big Oil (see: “Feds hid names of big oil companies at lobbying retreat”, Mide De Souza, PostMedia News, February 13/12)

I hope that Canada doesn’t go through with its WTO challenge, but it probably will. I hope that, despite what experts like Lawrence Herman say, the WTO decides that it’s all right for a nation to impose a tariff on a product which requires more pollution than a similar product, but I don’t think it will. I do, however, know that it’s time we, the people, began reigning in corporate power, as we’ll be the ones to pass on this world to our – living and breathing – children. We are, you and I, ultimately responsible for the world which our children inherit. That the power structure that we and our parents created appears monolithic is no reason to throw our arms up into the air in frustration, claiming that we can’t do anything about it. People can, and do, affect change. We’ve seen it happen throughout the world in 2011, and it will continue to happen over the course of the global long emergency in which we are now in the midst of.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views of the Green Party of Canada)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Will Greater Sudbury Be Forced to Hike Taxes to Pay for Legal Challenges Made by Taxpayers Association?

The Greater Sudbury Taxpayers Association (GSTA) is at it again, practicing the politics of fear and division within our City. At first, the GSTA’s smear campaign against our locally-elected officials was, for me, an academic interest; something interesting to watch unfold, from an intellectual perspective. However, with the GSTA’s most recent news conference, the actions of this group of neo-liberals in our midst is going to have a direct impact on me, a taxpayer of this City, in a place where it will hurt the most – my wallet.

Yes, it’s extremely ironic that a group which claims to be on a mission to look out for taxpayers financial interests has set its sights on – get this! – potentially contributing to raising the taxes of all municipal residents! But if reports published in the Sudbury Star (online, Monday February 20th, “City councillors face slush fund showdown”, and in print, Tuesday, February 21st, “Slush fund showdown”) are to be believed, it seems that the Taxpayers Association is threatening to take our municipal Councillors to court if the Association doesn’t get its own way.

Who, pray tell, does the Greater Sudbury Taxpayers Association think is going to be picking up the legal costs for a court challenge? Why, I think that it will end up being me, and all of the other taxpayers in our City, that’s who!

The "Healthy Community Initiative"

Since before its inception as an incorporated entity, members of the GSTA have been speaking out against something called the “Healthy Community Initiative” (HCI), which they (and others) label a “slush fund”. Essentially, each local councillor is allocated $50,000 for leisure spending in their wards each year (although apparently any unspent funds can be used by a Councillor in the following year of their 4 year mandate). This past Monday, the GSTA held a press conference to announce their intention to file lawsuits against Council if the Healthy Community Initiative isn’t reformed to the GSTA’s satisfaction.

Look, the Healthy Community Initiative in its present form is completely indefensible, in my opinion. On that, the GSTA and I agree. That a lot of good ultimately comes out of ward-specific spending on leisure activities is undeniable, but the fact is that all of this spending – now as much as $600,000 a year, is happening in an unaccountable vacuum, at the direction of only the ward Councillor. There is no public oversight, until after the fact, and then only through the media. There is no accountability regarding how funds are spent.

The Healthy Community Initiative is also a boon for incumbent municipal Councillors come election time. Essentially, each Councillor has access to a pool of money, now totalling $200,000 over 4 years, on which they can draw on to promote projects in their ward. At election time, Councillors often refer back to HCI spending that they’ve made within their wards as reasons for re-election, and as reminders to voters that they’ve done some good locally. Of course, the public is rarely advised whether other good projects might have been turned down in preference to other good projects. And since there is no requirement for public oversight, there’s no knowledge being shared as to which proponents might have benefited from HCI spending, and which proponents didn’t.

Accountability, Oversight and a Healthy Democratic Environment

As a resident of the City of Greater Sudbury, I’m happy that the City has expressed an interest in investing in leisure activities at the ward level, to the tune of $600,000 a year. As a taxpayer, however, I’m dismayed by the lack of oversight of this spending. And as a member of the Green Party of Canada, and CEO of the local federal electoral district association, I’m frankly appalled by the abuse of democracy which is occurring at the local level of my municipal government.

Not that I have any particular interest in municipal government in my role as CEO of the Sudbury Federal Green Party Association, as we are focussed only on the federal politics. But as a capital-G partisan Green, I, like thousands of Canadians, share a set of values, which my Party has articulated in its Constitution. But you don’t have to be a partisan Green or a member of my Party to subscribe to these values, as many ordinary Canadians share some or all of these values. I just happen to belong to a political party which has codified these shared values, and which uses these values as a basis for all decision-making. When applied to the Healthy Community Initiative, it’s clear to me that such a program involving government spending isn’t in keeping with those values.

Specifically, Greens believe in breaking down the inequalities of wealth and power that inhibit participation in democracy. We believe that all elected representatives should be committed to the principles of transparency, truthfulness and accountability in government. A spending program which lacks oversight and accountability, with a budget in excess of a half million dollars in any given year, administered by an elected official at their discretion, and seemingly to their electoral advantage, well, that’s just not in keeping with those values. Those are the sorts of undemocratic initiatives which my Party is fighting against at the federal level (google: “Tony Clement” and “Gazebo” to find out more about recent unaccountable spending by the federal government).

There can be no defending how HCI spending is being implemented in this City. So I agree with the Greater Sudbury Taxpayers Association’s call for reform of the HCI.

Bully Tactics and the Politics of Fear & Division

What I don’t agree with is the GSTA’s threats to bring lawsuits against Council or individual Councillors if they don’t get their way. Look, I understand that with regards to the HCI, Monday’s press conference wasn’t the GSTA’s starting point on this issue. They’ve been making their opinion known about the HCI for some time now. The GSTA has, apparently, hired a lawyer to prepare a 10-page report on HCI spending, and now armed with the findings of the Report, the threats of legal action are flying around fast and furiously.

With this Report in their backpocket, why did the GSTA not first choose to bring the findings of the Report to Council’s attention through a delegation process? Or make the Report available to individual Councillors, as a courtesy, or even simply through a press conference which still could have elicited coverage in our local media? Instead of taking those proactive steps to provide further education to our elected officials, with the hopes that this time they might see the light on the HCI spending issue, what happened instead has escalated this issue into an entirely different political realm.

And if the GSTA was serious about reforming the HCI, they never would have taken the step to threaten law suits. Clearly, there’s another agenda at play here. What the threat of a law suit actually does is to put Council and individual Councillors against a wall. If they decide to reform HCI spending, they’ll be handing a public victory to an organization that has been critical of Council, many individual Councillors, and municipal staff. If Council doesn’t reform the HCI, they’ll continue to have to defend the indefensible, however since that’s the track which our current Council has been on anyway, it seems likely that it will continue to follow suit for the next few years now, rather than hand the GSTA a moral victory.

An opportunity for real reform was lost as a result of issuing the legal threat. In its short history, the GSTA has frequently relied on bully tactics to make its point, such as calling for the resignation of the municipal CAO over his perceived role in the transit ticket scandal, instead of waiting for all of the facts to be exposed. In the case of the HCI, the GSTA’s very real threat of legal action against the municipality can only be considered yet another adversarial bully tactic, intended to intimidate Councillors. Of course, by issuing the threat, the GSTA can’t lose on this issue – unless of course, they follow through on the legal proceedings and fall flat on their faces. Even a legal loss, however, could still likely be spun as a win of some sort for the GSTA.

Political Game-Playing at the Municipal Level

And that’s why it’s pretty clear to me that the GSTA is playing a political game in our City, while claiming to be the champion of taxpayers. The old saying goes, “you get more flies with honey than vinegar”. The GSTA had other options available to it, especially now, armed with a report from a legal expert. The GSTA could have used this opportunity to build bridges with Council, and regain some credibility lost in the community through their use of over-heated rhetoric and bully tactics. Instead of using their Report as an incentive for reform, the GSTA has chosen to wield it as a club.

Backed up against a wall, if Council doesn’t blink, it now seems certain that our taxes are going to have to pay defending lawsuits filed by the so-called Taxpayers Association! Just whose interests is the GSTA really looking out for?

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views of the Green Party of Canada)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Why Restricting Rural Residential Development in Greater Sudbury Makes Sense

The following was originally posted in a somewhat different format in response to a comment made on the Sudbury Star’s website (post #2), itself in response to a letter to the editor from my friend Richard Paquette, published in the Monday, February 6 2012 edition of the Sudbury Star (“Changes would cause more urban sprawl”). I didn’t know that Richard was intending on writing his letter, but as a resident of Azilda, I can understand why he would be concerned at promoting even more sprawl in rural parts of the City of Greater Sudbury.

I spoke about the need to severely restrict additional rural residential development in Greater Sudbury at a recent meeting of Planning Committee, at which the 5-year review of the City’s Official Plan was being discussed. Earlier that evening, I had been delighted to hear that the City had identified rural residential development as one of the issues which was going to be looked at as part of the review. This acknowledgement of the importance of the issue motivated me to speak at the meeting, about an issue which I believe to be the flip-side of the smart growth coin.

Little did I understand at the time that the primary reason that the City had chosen to review rural residential development policies was for the purpose of allowing more as-of-right development by loosening policies further, and directing growth to our rural areas instead of to existing, already built-up parts of our City (like the Azilda community) which are fully serviced and which have an abundance of capacity. Given that the City itself acknowledges that there are over 500 vacant and developable rural residential lots already in existence, it just boggles my mind that the City would be looking at facilitating the creation of more expensive rural residential lots, to be subsidized by our limited taxpayer dollars!

However, Richard Pacquette, in his letter to the editor of the Sudbury Star, suggests that perhaps there is something else at play here: politics. In my reply to dhuglas (one of the more socially-conscious posters on the Sudbury Star site, I might add, and oft-time ally in seemingly never-ending battles with on-line Conservative trolls), I state that there is no good reason for allowing more rural residential development. But there are a lot of very bad reasons.

I have blogged about this issue before, in the context of cottage lot development (“Exurban Development in Greater Sudbury: Fiscally Irresponsible, Environmentally Unsustainable”). A lot of what I wrote then continues to be germane to the conversation which we’re just starting to have in Greater Sudbury around rural residential development.

Rural Residential Development: A Net Cost to Taxpayers

With regards to the cost/benefits of rural residential development, on the surface it may seem that a greater number of freehold properties should produce higher tax revenues for a municipality, especially if those properties are assessed at a residential rate rather than an agricultural one. Indeed, splitting lots does lead to increased revenues for municipalities. This argument is often used by speculators and other rural land owners as a justification for subdividing rural properties.

But the facts of the matter strongly suggest otherwise. Indeed, rural residential development is the very most expensive form of residential development in municipalities. The increased property tax revenues generated by additional rural residences never pay for themselves in the long run, and what we end up with is a form of development (primarily for wealthier land owners who may have multiple residences, or larger homes in rural settings) which is subsidized by other municipal taxpayers.

That Greater Sudbury already has a significant amount of this uneconomical form of development may be one of the reasons that our property tax circumstance always appears to be on the increase. Although many rural homeowners complain that taxes can become a burden (especially those with older homes on waterfronts, which have disproportionately been affected with higher assessment rates due to rising property values), the fact is that higher property taxes financially impact all homeowners throughout the City. And since urban taxpayers are, in essence, subsidizing rural homeowners, it is important to understand why rural residential development should be limited in order to improve the economic health of a majority of residents.

Smart Growth

A denser form of development, which isn’t desirable for everyone, is nonetheless a more efficient form of development in just about every way. The delivery of public services costs far less in urban situations than in suburban areas of the City, and far, far less than in exurban areas. While some exurban areas may not receive the same levels of servicing as others (especially public sewer and water), the fact is that road maintenance alone often compensates for increased costs.

Exurban development opportunities also detract from a community’s ability to grow more densely in urban areas. Since any given municipality is only going to attract a certain number of new households with a defined period of time, directing those new households to exurban areas, where servicing prices are high, means that there will be fewer people living in urban parts of a community where servicing costs are much lower. It also detracts from community redevelopment opportunities where a better mix of residential and commercial activities can take place side-by-side, often with greater densities.

Food Security

Creating rural residential lots in agricultural areas also has an incredibly negative impact on new and existing agricultural operations. In Greater Sudbury, we’ve already sterilized a significant area of what might otherwise be excellent agricultural lands due to poor lot creation policies. Right now, our primary agricultural areas aren’t under as significant a threat as they once were, due to protective land use policies, but secondary agricultural areas continue to be at risk. At a time when the idea of food security is fast becoming a major concern for residents of communities (especially those which find themselves hundreds of kilometres along a supply chain dependent on just a few transportation arteries, such as Greater Sudbury does), it only makes sense that we do what we can to protect our agricultural lands and make it easier, not more difficult, for our farmers to do their jobs. That’s another reason why directing residential development to already-established areas makes sense.

Cost-Effective Use of Existing Infrastructure

We have a number of core areas in the City of Greater Sudbury which would benefit from increased development. Often, infrastructure which can accomodate additional development is already in place in these core areas, and additional development will increase infrastructure efficiencies.

Rural residential development, when viewed as an opportunity lost, as well as a form of development with higher costs which are subsidized by taxpayers, the impacts which this form of development has on a community can be quite substantial. This isn’t just my opinion, by the way. Study after study has shown that the real costs of rural residential development create a long-term burden to taxpayers.

The Need to Place Limits on Rural Residential Development

Once created, it takes a significant effort to go back and reconsolidate residential lots. A better approach would be for a municipality to severely limit this form of development, or establish higher rates of taxation so that rural residential landowners pay their fair share. Both of these measures are often politically unpalatable for rural residential landowners and speculators, but that’s the sort of solution we need to be looking at in these times of fiscal restraint. The justification that increased taxation from new lots leads to a better economic circumstance for a city just isn’t supported by the empiric evidence.

In Greater Sudbury, with an abundance of vacant rural residential lots already in existence, there really is no need to create more lots in our rural areas. Since the costs are too high (both in terms of real costs and opportunity costs), and the built-form created is detrimental to other rural land users, it only makes sense that we prohibit opportunities for the creation of any further rural residential lots in our City. Simply put, there is no need for more lots, and no justifiable economic argument which can be made to support the creation of more lots.

With all levels of government looking to save costs, it's time that we acknowledge that we can no longer continue to subsidize inefficient and unsustainable rural residential development. We need to plan for the future in which are going to find ourselves in. It's time for the City to include policies in its land use plan which will prohibit the creation of new residential lots in rural areas, and preserve our rural areas for appropriate rural land uses, while protecting taxpayers from unnecessary tax increases.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views of the Green Party of Canada)

The Importance of a Public Conversation About Greater Sudbury's Proposed Anti-Idling By-law

I've been following with considerable interest the local print media's reaction to the proposed by-law in the City of Greater Sudbury which would limit unnecessary vehicular idling to one minute. This by-law has been in the making now for over a year and a half. Earlier in January, the proposed by-law came forward for review and recommendation by the City's Operations Committee, where it was adopted unanimously, and forwarded to Council for approval.

In the interim, several stories regarding the proposed by-law appeared in the media, many of which did not fully report on the by-laws many exceptions, which outline circumstances where idling may be permitted due to necessity or because of legal issues. These stories generated a significant number of online comments, as well as follow-up letters to the editor of print media.

Ultimately, Greater Sudbury's municipal Council unanimously refused to endorse the proposed by-law, sending it back to its Operations Committee (never mind that 5 of our Councillors on the Operations Committee had just voted to endorse the by-law at committee level). Our Councillors claimed that they had heard from the public, and that changes to the by-law were needed.

In response to a story about Council's actions, on January 27, 2012, I composed and submitted the following letter to the editor of the Northern Life, a bi-weekly print newspaper. At this time, the letter remains unpublished by the Northern Life. However, upon further review, since the anti-idling by-law was recommended by Operations Committee, the Northern Life has chosen to print two very interesting letters from a Mr. Richard Pulsifer.

The first, "City penny wise and pound foolish" (published online, January 19, 2012), appears to be nothing more than a diatribe against Ward 11 Councillor Terry Kett, who is one of the 5 Councillors on the City's Operations Committee. Mr. Pulsifer's next "letter" (in quotations, because that's a pretty generous term for a two-sentence opinion) was published in both the Northern Life and the Sudbury Star earlier today (February 6, 2012). This link is to the Northern Life's website, where the "letter" was published under the headline, "Idling by-law should apply to politicking".

Now, whether you think a by-law which limits unnecessary idling is a good idea or not, a letter which amounts to nothing more than a personal attack on a member of our Council, and another letter which does nothing but add further hot air to a well-worn climate change cliche does little, even less than nothing, to further public discourse. Indeed, today's letter from Mr. Pulsifer, published by both major print news sources in Greater Sudbury, really belittles the sort of public conversation which the residents of our community should be having on a by-law which proposes to place limits on unnecessary idling.

This is not to suggest that the Sudbury Star or the Northern Life appear to be giving only one side to this story. On the contrary, both the Sudbury Star and the Northern Life have published letters in support of the proposed by-law (just not mine - but don't worry, my fragile ego isn't particularly bruised). My point today has more to do with how, through the publication of letters which belittle public discourse, such as Mr. Pulsifer's does, the print media can end up playing a negative role in the public discourse around a particular issue.

Given the importance of the conversations which should be taking place in our communities regarding issues which have real impacts on real people, it would be better, I think, for our print media to take these issues seriously. Letters such as Mr. Pulsifer's do little to assist with moving public discussions forward, and indeed, they more often act as impediments for people to speak out, lest their own ideas and opinions become the topics of public derision.

The debate about the idling by-law will continue to play itself out in Greater Sudbury over the next few weeks (and maybe longer, although I hope not). What our decision-makers need is informed opinion, not personal attacks on their integrity.

Here is the text of my unpublished letter to the Editor of the Northern Life:


Re: Council sends back idling by-law (January 26, 2012)

I was dismayed to see the proposed by-law to limit unnecessary idling in Greater Sudbury returned to the City’s Operations Committee by Council last week for further review. This by-law, recommended by the City’s Operations Committee for Council’s approval in early January, 2012, has been over a year and a half in the making. The by-law was to take effect on January 1, 2013, after an aggressive education campaign targetted for the latter half of 2012.

There is a clear and present need to limit the unnecessary idling of personal vehicles in our community. A report released by Statistics Canada in 2010 “Greenhouse gas emissions from private vehicles” indicated that Greater Sudbury is the second dirtiest city in all of Canada from a vehicle emissions perspective. The study found that personal vehicles in our city release a startling 2,844 kilograms of carbon dioxide for every resident. Greater Sudbury has quite a ways to go to match Canada's lowest per capita emitter, Montreal, where only 1,219 kilograms of CO2is released per person.

Along with environmental concerns, there are clear documented connections between vehicle exhaust emissions and negative effects on human health, particularly cardiovascular and respiratory effects. Children, pregnant women and elderly are groups that are especially at risk.

It’s well understood that we can not give up our dependence on personal vehicle use at this time, due to a lack of historic investment in other forms of transportation infrastructure. What we can do is to try to limit unnecessary emissions from our vehicles in order to improve Greater Sudbury’s air quality and reduce our climate-changing carbon emissions.

The by-law, modelled on a number of by-laws already in place in over 30 Ontario municipalities, would have allowed a number of sensible exemptions to the 1-minute idling restriction. Where these by-laws have been approved by municipal councils, there have been marked reductions in vehicle idling, due to an increased sense of public awareness.

It’s time for Greater Sudbury to get serious about air quality and climate change. Council needs to revisit this by-law immediately so as to meet the January 1, 2013 effective date recommended by the Operations Committee. We all need to acknowledge that we have a role to play in helping improve our community’s air quality. One way to accomplish that outcome is by sensibly limiting the unnecessary idling of our personal vehicles. Not only is limiting unnecessary idling good for our community’s health and the environment, it will save us money too.

Steve May


(opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views of the Green Party of Canada)