More than a third of Toronto city councillors received failing grades for their votes on environmental issues this term.
June 26, 2014
Paul Moloney City Hall Bureau reporter
Mayor Rob Ford, along with a third of city council, received failing grades for the way they voted on environmental issues.
NATHAN DENETTE / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO
More than a third of Toronto city council received failing grades for the way they voted on 31 environment-related issues this term.
Mayor Rob Ford, Councillor Doug Ford and key councillors in the Ford administration were handed Fs by the Toronto Environmental Alliance.
The environmental group, which lobbies council on environmental issues, also flunked Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly, mayoral candidate Karen Stintz and other councillors who aren’t necessarily Ford allies but are fiscally conservative.
In total, 17 of the 45 members of council were flunked for their votes on such issues as disconnecting downspouts, planting trees, diverting garbage from landfill, improving transit and banning plastic bags.
Mayor Ford got the worst marks of anyone, said alliance executive director Franz Hartmann.
“We think that all Torontonians should be profoundly disappointed in how Mayor Ford did,” Hartmann said. “He should set an example but his leadership on helping improve the environment was non-existent.”
Councillor Ford dismissed the report cards, which the alliance issues annually.
“If I was giving marks out for being fiscally responsible with taxpayers’ money I would give everyone that received an F on the environment a AAA-plus on watching the taxpayers money,” Ford said.
“All the people that received an A for the environment I would give them F-minus for being responsible with the taxpayers money.”
Kelly said he was comfortable with the way he voted on the 31 issues and doesn’t feel his poor mark from the alliance would hurt his re-election chances.
Ironically, he commented after a news conference where he praised city staff for quickly cleaning up the Don Valley Parkway flooding from heavy rains that it’s feared are becoming more frequent due to climate change.
The city estimates it would cost $500 million to flood-proof the lower Don River and that would require financial help to make it happen, reporters were told.
An environmental assessment is planned next year into making Bayview Ave. higher, and the city also wants to look at possibly raising the level of the DVP as well.
Costs are unknown but would not be cheap, Kelly said.
“You’re talking large numbers,” Kelly said. “We may need the assistance of both the federal and provincial governments in order to make those changes.”
Environmental protection tends to cost big bucks, and that conflicts with the focus on keeping costs down to avoid tax hikes, said Councillor Frank Di Giorgio, the budget chief.
“The Ford administration is tilted toward reducing costs and you’re inevitably going to have low environmental initiatives,” Di Giorgio said. “It’s not surprising given my budgeting role that I would get a low score.”
Repeated Don Valley Parkway flooding is a wake-up call, said Councillor Janet Davis, a Ford critic who scored an A-plus.
“The environmental agenda has been absent in this administration,” Davis said. “We had another storm that washed out areas of the city and yet our adaptation plans have been put on the back burner.”
Failing grades went to the chair of public works and infrastructure, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, and to Stintz, who chaired the TTC before stepping down to run for mayor.
“The most important thing we can do for our environment is to build transit,” Stintz said. “That's why my plan to fight congestion is fully funded and feasible. I'm also committed to protecting green spaces, by stopping the sale of school playing fields.”
Minnan-Wong dismissed the alliance as “a political organization that makes political statements. The residents of my ward know I keep taxes down and I’m a fiscal conservative. They will consider the credibility of the Toronto Environmental Alliance and whether it’s a credible report card.”
Councillor Ron Moeser thinks he was marked down for supporting his constituents who want to see continued incineration of sewage sludge at the Highland Creek treatment plant rather than trucking sludge through town to spread on farmers’ fields.
“They (alliance) certainly don’t like my position because I supported the community,” Moeser said.
Other councillors who received Fs think they have a pretty good environmental record.
Councillor David Shiner, chair of government management committee, said he fought against the Line 9 oil pipeline plan through the city. And Cesar Palacio, chair of the licensing and standards committee, touted his work on increasing the amount of green space in his ward.
Councillor Michael Thompson, chair of economic development, said he’s comfortable with his environmental voting record despite receiving a failing grade from the alliance.
“Quite frankly, I won’t lose any sleep over it,” Thompson said.