Monday, August 4, 2014 (Simcoe Day)
It is fitting, on this day, dedicated to John Graves Simcoe, founder of the City of Toronto, to think for a moment about our city’s history and its relationship to the environment. And you can do so quite easily just by looking at a tree.
Although people of the First Nations travelled the shorelines of the Great Lakes for many centuries prior to the Europeans’ arrival, it was during the 1600’s that the name Toronto first came into being, from the Mohawk word “tkaronto,” meaning “where there are trees standing in the water.”
Toronto has always been a treed city – a beautiful city, surrounded by the escarpments that reach all the way down to Niagara Falls. It only takes a quick trip to the top floor of any tall office tower or apartment building to see just how the tree canopy covers so much.
It is interesting to note also that even though Simcoe, a British army officer, wanted to name the area York to honour the Royal family, it was the residents themselves who petitioned to have the name of the central town returned to “Toronto.”
We started out as a treed city, close to nature, and we must return to this state. The 20th century was all about humans conquering nature, paving over it, clear cutting it, and driving large cars to large homes over large highways. Our current mayor is very much in favour of us staying in this concrete-and-gasoline state, but we do not need to. In fact we cannot afford to. Modern cities and their residents can enjoy a far greater, far more prosperous quality of life by co-operating with nature than we can by denying it or killing it.
This is why my platform, for Mayor of Toronto, includes the principles outlined in the Green Action Outline, created by the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA).
The Alliance states that the following five priority actions must be taken by Toronto Council over the next four years, and I agree. They are the minimum investments we have to make to build a greener city for everyone, present and future. As mayor, returning to the job of what actually being a mayor is, within 30 days of the beginning of my term, I would bring these issues before council.
1. Prepare for Severe Weather and Climate Change: we all know that heavy downpours, flash floods and ice storms are part of our predictable weather patterns, and so, too, are small tornadoes. Last year’s ice storm demonstrated what happens when penny-wise/dollar foolish mayor disassociates tree maintenance from weather. Cutting the tree maintenance budget to save taxpayers’ dollars kind backfires when those trees fall down due to extreme weather. This represents, as so many of our current policies do, pathetic short-sightedness. The ice-storm was not a once-in-a-century event. I propose, as per the Alliance’s statement, that we:
- expand our tree canopy
- calculate the cost of climate change; and
- implement a plan of action – which means doing something, not just talking about it, and being proud of what we are doing.
2. Improve Air Quality: on hot days, and even some winter days, the pall of haze over the city is both troubling and embarrassing. Smoke and pollution from our car-happy city can sit for days, and repercussions are not limited to the brown belt of air that blankets us. People get sick and die from airborne pollutants. Not only is this a tragedy in this own right, but it also costs taxpayers’ money in terms of hospital visits, and employee sick time. As a city, we need to stop ignoring the hidden or less obvious financial costs of stagnation. This city needs to take responsibility for our air through:
- better air monitoring
- stopping the island airport expansion, specifically forbidding jets at BillyBishopAirport; and
- encouraging and enabling residents to use alternate forms of transport and to leave their cars at home
3. Improve the TTC from a 1970’s TTC into a 21st century one: it is simple math that buses and streetcars carry more people per square foot than private cars do. The use of mass transit means more people getting to more places using fewer pollutants, which is why I support the Alliance’s call to:
- improve TTC service; (and my comprehensive plan talks about how to pay for it) and
- freeze fares (and my plan talks about the much stronger negotiating tactic with the province/feds than just begging for money hat in hand.)
4. Reduce Waste: We are an affluent society that can afford to have waste trucked from our homes and deposited “somewhere else” – landfills – where mountains of garbage simply pile up to become someone else’s problem. Pollutants, from anti-freeze and prescription medications to sewage and industrial waste are poured into our water and drainage systems where they become anonymous and invisible. But invisible is not the same thing as “gone.” Pollutants continue to exist, and they are very good at coming back around to us –in the water we drink, the food we eat and the air we breathe. Second-hand poison is still poison. This is why we need to:
- adopt new waste diversion targets and actions, staying current with the best technology possible
- give everyone access to all diversion options;
- make people and companies more responsible, with measured accountability, for every item and substance that is used up and eliminated.
5. Detox Toronto: the process of detoxifying a city requires a great deal of work and resources. I find it amazing watching so many Toronto residents escape to cottage country so that their kids can breathe clean air and get back to nature, only see them all return at the end of the weekend, accepting a cesspool of pollutants as their normal living environment. We have the ability to:
- monitor and phase out toxics in our sewers and land;
- phase out carcinogens in our air; and
- encourage Toronto businesses to become cleaner and greener
All it takes is the will of the people and strong, clear leadership.
Some people say “it’s too big of a problem,” or that “it’s too late.” But it is never too late. Nature is a very powerful ally. Trees and water can do great things, and there are many cities around the world that have proven that a few small steps in the right direction can lead to a tipping point, in which the air becomes cleaner, people become healthier, while still allowing jobs, businesses and lifestyles to co-exist. In fact, following this pathway allows for the creation of more wealth, not less. More jobs, not fewer.
I am someone who fights hard for the things I believe in. This town is definitely something worth believing in. Ignorance of the interconnectedness of things, combined with a love for big machines and superficial showmanship is symbolic of an outdated approach: use something until it is used up and then buy more.
I believe our city, where trees stand in water, deserves to return to a state of co-existing with nature, and by doing so demonstrating to the world just how easily it can be done, with the right forward thinking leader in place.