Green Party Win in BC

The provincial election in British Columbia was held yesterday. And it was a nail bitter down to the end.

It is fair to say, perhaps, that the Green Party emerged as the winner – even though they only won three seats. How does that work?

BC electionAs you can see from the graphic in the Globe and Mail, the Liberals won 43 seats and the NDP won 41 seats. In BC, you need 44 seats in the 87 seat House to win a majority government. Umm. If the Liberals only have 43 seats then they will need some ONE else to vote with them on legislation – to get the 44 votes need to pass. They would likely work to get the three Green Party members to vote along side them – passing a bill with 46 votes. HOWEVER, the NDP could just as easily work with the Greens to vote against the Liberals – because together the NDP and Greens have 44 votes. Wow. That means that EVERY time a bill is voted on, it will come to down to what the Green Party decides to do.

In fact, it could be the case that the Greens and NDP try to get together and form a coalition government. But that seems a little unlikely – given the relationship between the Greens and NDP in the province. It is not a strong one. Often those two parties are fighting it out! A more likely alliance might actually be for the Greens and Liberals to form a coalition government. But I am going to assume that Clark with try and govern from a minority gov’t position and negotiate on a bill by bill basis.

So, I am saying the Green Party won the election.

But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. There were a lot of close races and there will be a lot of recounts. The outcome could still change a little in the coming week(s).

What does this mean for the environment? I think it will mean staying on the course on aggressive climate change policy. I think it might present challenges to LNG/fracking and maybe to the Site C Dam. On the whole, it is good news for the environment. The NDP picked up seats in urban areas. All three Green Party seats come from Vancouver Island. That Liberals held their ground in rural areas. This means there is likely some tension between rural-urban populations and that will play itself out in environmental policy. But so long as the Greens carry the balance of power, the environment has a fighting chance.

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Rail Deck Park: A Plan for Toronto’s Backyard (U. Khan)

This past week, Toronto Mayor John Tory announced his plan for a new park in downtown Toronto. The proposed “Rail Deck Park” would consists of 21 acres of space over the current rail yards in downtown Toronto. The park will provide green space to downtown Toronto, a region of the city that does not have a lot of greenery. Although there are many challenges in completing a project of this magnitude, it has the potential to transform the face of the city of Toronto in the coming decades.

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Location of the proposed Rail Deck Park in Downtown Toronto. Source: NowToronto.com

 

Ideas about building urban parks are not uncommon. Mayor Tory even referenced the Millennium park in Chicago as a model for this project. That park has become a defining mark of the city of Chicago, and continues to attract tourists to the city. The benefits of parks are also manifold. They provide an open space for the residents of high density areas. The city is expected to double its downtown population in the next 25 years and thus will have an ever growing need for open spaces.

According to the American Planning Association, parks have a cooling effect on the area where they are located. Trees provide shade from sunlight, and reflect sunlight that would otherwise be absorbed by asphalt. They are also great for human health as they provide open spaces where community members can exercise and stay active. Creating urban parks can also slow the advance of urban sprawl. If people have access to natural areas close to the city, they would be more inclined to stay in high density areas rather than moving to the suburbs.

Ontario is not a stranger to urban planning. The Ontario Greenbelt is a great example of forward thinking that allowed the province to secure farmland required to support the growing urban areas in the region. The project has been a success, and has been able to offset the equivalent of 27 million cars driven in one year. Toronto is also working on the Bentway project under the Gardiner Expressway. Work on the proposed open space is expected to be completed by 2017, and upon completion will provide 1.75 km of green space to the residents of the area. The projects prove that innovative thinking has a big impact on the development of communities, and that the provincial government should support the construction of this park as it will help the citizens of Toronto get an amazing open space for their city.

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Artistic representation of the proposed Rail Deck Park in Downtown Toronto.

Source: The Globe and Mail

 

The big detractor of this proposed project is the cost. The current plan proposed by Mayor Tory does not specify how the project will be funded, but it does say that the project will depend on the help of the provincial and federal government. The commercial real estate in the area is priced at between 55 and 60 million an acre. Millennium park in Chicago had an estimated cost of $150 million, but ended up costing over $500 million. The mayor needs to create an effective plan to secure funding for this project that accounts for possible budget overruns. The timeline for completion of the project is currently estimated to be between four and five years. Again, the plan for this project should have contingency measures if there are delays in the completion of the project. The first step in the project is to have a staff report on the potential cost and timeline of the project completed by September 22nd 2016.

Although it is left to be seen if this project will ever get build, I think it would be a great addition to the downtown core. It would provide various benefits to the people of the area and ensure that future generations have a great space to live in. The mayor and his council should work on developing a cost effective plan that can realistically see the park being built in the near future.

Something Close to Home (by A. Koundourakis)

Just this past Thursday, the Federal government committed to amending the Rouge National Park Act. They have agreed to extend the park’s size and protect its natural integrity for the next decade, while also providing long term security for park farmers by lengthening their lease agreements. Rouge National Urban Park is a combination of natural, cultural and agricultural landscapes containing several exceptional features: there is a large biodiversity of over 1,700 species of plants and animals; one of the oldest working farms in the GTA; Carolinian forests; the only campground in Toronto; the region’s largest marsh; beaches; fantastic hiking trails; and human history dating back to 8,000 B.C.E., which includes some of the oldest known Indigenous sites and villages in Canada.

Since 2012, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has been pushing the Ontario Liberal government to transfer over 9,000 acres that it owns in Scarborough’s Rouge Valley, yet this was only met with arduous conditions. Subsequently, there was a several year standoff whereby the Conservatives have fought against a defiant Liberal front for park land transfer. Prominent conservation groups such as the David Suzuki Foundation, Ontario Nature, Environmental Defence and Friends of the Rouge Watershed advocated against the transfer of land due to the concern over the Conservative’s vision for Rouge Park as a place where nature and farming had equal protection. There was serious reluctance to transfer lands over because of their abandonment of a nature first mentality. There were continuously amassing concerns over the wellbeing of the natural park as it was viewed that, to the Conservatives, nature and farming were mutually exclusive.

However, on Thursday June 9, the Federal Liberal government rewrote the law governing Rouge National Urban Park. This change came after talks between the province, park stakeholders and Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister McKenna, where she said that amendments to the Rouge National Park Act will “ensure that the ecological integrity of the park is the first priority.” Trudeau’s Liberal government has committed to match the Conservative’s proposed contribution to Rouge Park of $170.5 million over 10 years and $10.6 million a year after that. Further, federal authorities will offer greater assurances, which include leases of up to 30 years to farmers who continue to lease park land. On Saturday June 18, the Ontario government reaffirmed its commitment to transfer 6.5 square kilometres of land to Parks Canada as well as relinquish reversionary rights to 15 square kilometres of additional lands that were purchased by Ontario and subsequently transferred to Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

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(Trudeau & his family at “Paddle the Rouge” – photo is from Trudeau’s twitter feed).

 

Brad Duguid, the province’s minister of economic development, employment and infrastructure (he also happens to be a Scarborough MPP), called the amendment “a significant improvement.” He is also the man who refused to hand Rouge National Park over to the Harper government and had been a direct player in the current approval of the transfer. He further called the legislation “a significant improvement that both elevates ecological integrity as the guiding principle, yet remains sensitive to agricultural interests in the park.”

Now, for all those of you who haven’t been to Rouge National Park, GO! It’s beautiful and an amazing date destination and only an hour away. I’ve never been a dinner and a movie date kind of guy, and frankly don’t know if people still do that anymore. This park is breathtaking and I really recommend it for anyone. There are plenty of things to do, for example when the plan to expand the park was announced the Trudeau family was attending an event called ‘Paddle the Rouge’. But back to the story at hand, what’s the big deal about this amendment, why does it matter to any of us? Because the remarkable features of Rouge National Park that each of us can observe and enjoy are being expanded upon and transferred into Federal jurisdiction, they will come with stricter regulations whose goal will be to protect the diverse list of species living there. When you enter any National Park in Canada or even a hiking trail, you’re a guest in someone else’s home. To increase their square footage allows you to enjoy their home that much more and longer and ensures that the residents are still there. It’s not the trees, grass and water that we enjoy when we’re at any National Park, it’s the relationships between each species and what they produce that we are able to enjoy. You either get something or nothing. I think that protecting it is important to Canadians.

Also, Rouge National Park isn’t just nature, it’s also agriculture. By increasing lease term agreements from 1 year to 30 years, it provides much more security for farmers who were unsure whether or not they would be welcome to continue growing crops the following years. Now unless there was some reason why the Harper government didn’t want to extend these terms that I couldn’t find, I can only see this being a positive for residents in the GTA. The park holds some of Canada’s best Class 1 farmland, which is among the rarest and most fertile land in the country. This Class 1 farmland accounts for 70% of the park itself. For those of us concerned with job supply, increased security will increase the demand for new hires in the agriculture industry. Furthermore, as local food becomes increasingly popular for their freshness and low transportation costs, increasing the job security for farmers should become a priority. Farmers feed cities, and I don’t slap the hand that feeds me.

Say No to Site-C

Things are heating up with Site-C. At the time I wrote The Canadian Environment in Political Context there was not too much to say/guess about the Site-C dam in British Columbia. So it is only briefly mentioned in Chapters 8 (Energy) and 9 (Indigenous Politics). But now over 300 scholars have signed a statement AGAINST Site-C. I don’t need to say too much about it here because there is already a great webpage that explains everything. Check it out:

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