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Environmental issues focus of mayoral debate - InsideTorontoVotes.ca

1 October 2010
Mike Adler

Two hazy questions hung over a mayoral debate this week: how many things can Toronto’s next municipal government do to help the environment and would Rob Ford do any of them?

The campaign’s frontrunner left early from a forum on green issues Thursday, Sept. 24, at St. Simon-the-Apostle Church on Bloor Street, but not saying he was frustrated at seeing buildings in the city with their lights on at night. “It’s ridiculous how much energy we’re wasting,” the Etobicoke councillor said. “I’m going to make sure that those lights are off.”

Otherwise, Ford did not vary his standard approach, talking about what he considers wasteful spending at city hall.

While Sarah Thomson said the city and Toronto Hydro should do more to encourage use of solar energy and other green technologies – including a program to install rooftop solar panels homeowners could own after 10 years of use – Ford suggested such plans cost money and lead to higher taxes.

“If we can afford it, I’d be the first one” to support it, he said.

“We can’t afford it.”

Rocco Rossi, hosting another event, didn’t show up at all, leaving the event organized by the Toronto Environmental Alliance largely to Thomson, Joe Pantalone and George Smitherman.

All three said they support the city’s ambitious environmental initiatives and want to make Toronto a centre for green industries.

On stage, though, they found ways to bicker.

Moderator Gord Miller said TEA, the city’s leading environment watchdog, considers the past city council the greenest it has seen, but added staff have been slow to meet goals on programs for reducing smog and boosting alternative energy.

Smitherman agreed, saying a city plan for green energy was delivered “only on paper” and should have involved hundreds of rooftops in the city by now. (A city-sponsored solar water-heating project at 100 Riverdale homes should be completed by December.)

It’s possible to overwhelm the city’s bureaucracy by trying to do too much at once, and that has been part of the problem with Toronto’s environmental initiatives, Smitherman said.

The former MPP added he has “high regard” for the list of environment-friendly city programs – such as a green roof bylaw and a green building standard – but leadership dictates “you pick your spots and you do not pretend” you can do many things well at the same time.

“Transit is our spot,” he added.

But Pantalone, who said the city has been recognized as an environmental leader under his watch as deputy mayor, said he doesn’t accept “we have to slow down” on any of the initiatives. If people need to be pushed to meet alternative energy targets, he will push them, he said at one point.

Despite his optimism, only half of Torontonians have access to the city’s green bin system, which is still not available at most high-rise buildings. Smitherman said the city should make micro-composting systems available for such buildings, suggesting urban gardens could use part of what is produced.

Thomson said she supported new light-rail lines for the city as long as they are underground, since neighbourhoods along the planned routes (Thomson recently met with opponents of the Sheppard East light-rail project) believe surface light-rail “ruins the community feel, it ruins the street.”

Pantalone said that approach amounts to building more-expensive subways where they aren’t needed. He argued his rivals who want to change an approved Transit City plan instead of going ahead with construction only offer the city more delay.

TEA’s executive director Franz Hartmann said the group will release a final report card on leading candidates for mayor in early October.

As originally published here: http://www.insidetorontovotes.ca/2010/10/environmental-issues-focus-of-mayoral-debate/

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