Southern Alberta Group for the Environment sent out a survey to municipal election candidates to gauge their positions on environmental issues.
They recently published those responses on their website and indicated that they were endorsing the following 9 candidates for city council based on their responses:
- Bridget Mearns
- Stephen Mogdan
- Kelti Baird
- Marissa Black
- Jeff Carlson
- Belinda Crowson
- Jerry Firth
- Jenn Schmidt-Rempel
- Robin Walker
According to SAGE, “these candidates articulated their support for policies that will go a long way in moving Lethbridge down the path of long-term environmental sustainability”, and “they are most likely to take the climate emergency seriously.”
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Here are some of the questions SAGE asked candidates, followed by the responses of those listed above.
Policy stance regarding the climate crisis and the plan to address it
The city should be advocating with other orders of government for incentive programs for residential retrofits. The Government of Canada, for instance, has an incentive program that could be supported to assist retrofits of older residential stock that has a disproportionate effect on emissions in the city.
A municipality’s approach to climate adaptation must continually focus on the best interests of the community at large. Risk factors that expose our city and region to potential harm—environmental, economic, social—must be recognized and addressed. Approaches and best practices will change over times, and the City must continually adopt those which meet our commitments and objectives. Responding to climate risks must also take place within the context of overall fiscal responsibility. It can be a difficult balancing act, but most areas of government achievement involve a challenging balancing of interests; we can’t be afraid to honestly address those interests.
The climate crisis is a looming threat to Lethbridge and area. Our main industry in the surrounding area is agriculture, with vast monoculture farms threatening the stability of soil health and biodiversity in and around the city. Now, as a city councillor, my ability to affect policy stops at the city limits; however, there is ample
opportunity to invest in Lethbridge to help mitigate the oncoming disaster of the climate crisis.
Step 1: Have solid assessment protocols every year to assess how much CO2 city activities including transportation, heating and cooling, and other activities are putting into the environment. We can’t make change if we don’t have a measure, and we should already be monitoring our outputs in order to make accurate, data-based decisions on how we proceed. Using metrics to monitor the situation so we can adjust policy based on performance indicators will be important in the very near future. (now. They’re important now.)
Step 2: Encouraging adoption of greener technologies. I’ve been an advocate for this for a while, but I firmly believe that Lethbridge should update our building and zoning codes to include grid-tied green technologies in the city. Any improvements to City facilities and assets should include green technology of either solar or wind power generation. Additionally, any new commercial builds, or commercial retrofits should have a grid-tied power system included. The City does
have the power to mandate these things, and it’s time we start implementing changes to do so. Eventually, grid-tied solar systems should be included on all new residential builds as well, though I think that’s an issue for next election. Let’s lay the groundwork with commercial first, and then get into residential once people have adapted to the idea.
Step 3: Reducing reliance on private transportation by investing in a vigorous and successful public transit and active transportation system. We need more people taking public transit to reduce CO2 emissions in the city from private vehicle use. Lethbridge was designed as a car-oriented city, so transportation here is a tricky problem to solve, but it isn’t impossible. I myself have switched from car-oriented to public-transit/active transportation oriented transportation within the City and find the system to be reasonably navigable (assuming users do not face any other accessibility barriers … though this also needs to be addressed with transit, as the new system isn’t ideal for everyone right now).
Step 4: Altering how we tax properties. Lethbridge residents and small local businesses bear the brunt of property taxes in Lethbridge. However, our current property tax system rewards allowing commercial spaces to fall into disrepair rather than keep them fixed up and full. Improvements to local commercial structures drive values up, and that increases property tax. Therefore our current tax system incentivizes disrepair. I believe we need to address this in our tax code and implement a compliant-based surcharge on structures both residential and commercial in order to incentivize landowners making improvements to their commercial and residential properties. Additionally, I believe a certain percentage of property taxes received from a given area should be spent in that area on improvements. This will take some tricky accounting adaptation, but is possible to achieve. That way, older parts of Lethbridge are not subsidizing newer parts of Lethbridge because their infrastructure is also getting cunent upgrades as well.
Having worked in sustainable agriculture for several years, I know that climate change is real and needs to be addressed. If elected, I would like to introduce strategies such as non-monoculture lawns to lower water use consumption, fix nitrogen in the soil, and reduce erosion, and implement the use of native species as decorative plants in green spaces around the city. Reducing our water use consumption is one of my top priorities, as well as incentivizing green technology to flourish. I believe in evidence based decision-making, and the evidence is clear that we need to implement policy in order to keep our city beautiful and thriving for future generations to come.
Climate change mitigation and adaptation should be one of the top priorities for every person, not just elected officials. Setting clear goals and targets not merely for the Corporation (City) but for our entire community will be key. Monitoring progress towards the goals will be the best indicators for success. Striving for continual improvement, and being innovative in our solutions will allow our community to succeed. The environment has always been one of my election pillars, and I believe I have been instrumental in pushing the City towards positive change. The work is not finished, and I will continue to be a strong environmental advocate on Council.
Work is being done by the city on some of these issues. In addition to setting a target to reduce corporate emissions, City Council started the process on developing a Clean Energy Improvement Program, which will support homeowners and improve the energy use in residences. As well, Council has worked on energy improvements in City facilities and has requested that in the future, all capital projects must be looked at through a climate lens, and the impact on the environment will be one factor in determining whether or not a project should proceed. These projects are ongoing and will be of benefit. More works needs to happen. There are several things a municipality can do. We need to review what we can do and choose those that have the greatest impact and which we can afford to do in a sustainable way. Some possible things the city could do are listed below. These are some of my ideas. However, I know that with increased communication with the public, more ideas will come to light and it is imperative that we continue community conversations in this areas and bring the best possible ideas to the table. The
redevelopment of the transit system is part of trying to work with residents to decrease automobile use and decrease our carbon footprint. The city needs to consider (and when financially feasible, develop) other forms of transportation (pedestrian, cycling, etc.) that support a non-car lifestyle. Work will continue, along with annual funding, to continue to retrofit city buildings. More advocacy work can be done to work with other orders of government to bring in more programs designed to support homeowners in retrofitting their homes with more energy efficient options. In some jurisdictions, work is being done on right to repair legislation, which supports reusing appliances rather than replacing them.
As part of my vision for Lethbridge (platform), I believe that the City of Lethbridge must lead in environmental stewardship. The environment and the natural world is our lifeline; every action matters in protecting it for all generations. Actions toward climate change need significant efforts from across all sectors and governments, requiring participation in local environmental reforms and environmental management that assures our part in the global effort to address the impacts of climate change.
My commitment to the environment from the local level is focused on:
- Participating in programs that aim to reduce climate change impacts
- Advancing clean and efficient transit and transportation systems
- Encouraging responsible land-use and utilizing natural landscaping
- Promoting food security efforts through urban farming policies
“Think globally; act locally.” This is the best way to approach the climate crisis. I agree with the previous council’s decision to reduce corporate emissions. The new Municipal Development Plan also includes several policies that strive to reduce our footprint, lower GhG, and provide incentives on resource efficiency and renewable energy projects. I support these policies, as they help further reduce emissions and create environmental (and fiscal) sustainability.
The environment supports “society” and society supports “economy”. If you want a strong economy, you need a strong society, which is supported by a strong and healthy environment — this aligns with the 4 pillars of my platform available at jennschmidtrempel.ca.
Council policies focused on the economy also need to address the environment and society. My platform includes policies aimed at improving multi-modal transportation around the city (through Age Friendly Lethbridge), protecting our urban forest (Natural Spaces and Areas), creating opportunities for new sustainable bio and energy technologies (Our Local Workforce), and ensuring that we have housing opportunities close to amenities (Downtown). We need a local, holistic, and integrated approach to support our environment, our people, and our community.
I think environmental sustainability and stewardship are very important, and not just with respect to climate change and biodiversity. We would cultivate a stronger, more resilient community by encouraging residential and community gardening and locally farmed food consumption. This would also reduce our vulnerability to supply chain disruptions caused by extreme weather events or border closures, etc.
I don’t have the room to include their answers to the other questions, but you can check out the SAGE website to see their answers to the following questions:
- Please expand on your policy stance regarding the health of the environment and local biodiversity. How do you plan to address this issue if elected?
- Are you aware of any organizations in the Lethbridge area that are currently working on issues around the climate crisis? If so, how do you plan to involve them in your approaches to climate change mitigation and adaptation?
- Once thought too difficult to implement, many environmental goals have now become accepted, even welcomed, aspects of modern life: sorting waste, choosing light rapid transit over driving, and generating power from wind and solar, to name a few. Describe your “pie in the sky” ideal environmental or social dream for Lethbridge. What environmental policies or practices that now seem impossible should be commonplace by 2050 or sooner? How do you intend on setting your ideal environmental or social dream
Finally, all 9 candidates answered either strongly support or somewhat support the following initiatives recommended by SAGE:
- Adopt strong science-based policies that address greenhouse gas emissions produced by the City
- Uphold and work to meet the commitment made by the previous council to the emission reduction target for corporate emissions of 40% under 2018’s levels by 2030
- Expand upon Municipal Development Plan policy no. 169 by implementing an annual carbon budget to pursue the corporate emissions reduction target of 40% under 2018’s levels by 2030
- Establish adaptation strategies that preemptively address the city’s vulnerabilities to climate change impacts and associated public health risks
- Adopt incentive programs designed to encourage residential property owners, businesses owners, and organizations to invest in energy and water efficiency retrofits and renewable energy projects
- Convert existing and future parks and open spaces to become drought-tolerant, lowering demand on the municipal water supply
- Implement measures that protect and enhance Lethbridge’s urban
- Implement more creative solutions to prevent city litter due to excessive wind
- Work with regional municipalities within our watershed to
protect the Castle Crown headwaters
- Oppose activity within our watershed that directly impacts the quality and availability of water, such as coal mining along the eastern slopes of the Rockies
- Implement measures protecting our watershed, river valley,
and coulee ecosystems from unnecessary harm related to overuse and pollution or excessive construction
- Develop a biodiversity strategy to support and enhance biodiversity on city-owned properties
- Meaningfully consult and engage with Indigenous communities and incorporate Indigenous knowledge into land stewardship and conservation efforts
- Foster greater collaboration with local organizations and stakeholders in addressing issues related to water, air quality, biodiversity, and other environmental and climate-related issues
Update (14 Oct 2021): SAGE reached out to me after publication to say that after reviewing the responses, they have added incumbent Ryan Parker to their list of endorsements. You can find his survey responses here.