Toronto’s new mayor promises an eco-friendly future

The National Observer

By Abdul Matin Sarfraz

Environmental advocates welcomed the election of Toronto's new mayor Tuesday, saying they will work hard to ensure Olivia Chow and city council follow through on their commitments.

Chow has pledged to take action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting green spaces and improving access to clean energy. During her campaign, she vowed to transform Toronto into a sustainable city through a range of measures, including expanding bike lanes, investing in public transportation and promoting the use of renewable energy.

The newly elected mayor is a longtime advocate for environmental protection. A video posted online shows that in 2006, Chow and her late husband, former federal NDP leader Jack Layton, retrofitted their home by installing solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling.

"We need our new mayor to take bold steps to cut carbon emissions, get Toronto’s climate and environmental plans on track, and protect us during storms, floods and heat waves,” says Sarah Buchanan, campaigns director at Toronto Environmental Alliance.

“Olivia Chow has promised to reverse TTC service cuts, invest in programs to make housing more affordable, climate-friendly and safe, and bring in new funding tools like a levy for commercial parking lot owners. These commitments could transform Toronto, and we'll be pushing action every step of the way.”

Buchanan said they are excited to continue working to build a greener, more equitable city with new leadership at city hall.

To fight climate change, Chow also promised to prioritize older multi-unit buildings, especially those housing vulnerable populations, for energy audits and retrofit financing for combined heating and cooling systems like electric heat pumps.

“As our biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, our city’s buildings are critical to climate action but a huge vulnerability if we don’t act fast," reads a statement on Chow’s website. “Many of our homes, businesses and community spaces still rely on fossil fuels and they aren’t keeping us safe during extreme weather. Toronto already has over 120 premature deaths per year due to extreme heat, and in the next 25 years, we’ll have 60 days that are over 30 C each year,” the statement reads. “Most older apartments without air conditioning don’t even provide an on-site cooling space for tenants and many are overdue to replace vital service systems.”

Phil Pothen, Ontario environment program manager at Environmental Defence, says mayor-elect Chow's commitment to promote climate-friendly buildings will be an important step forward, but it is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the climate benefits he hopes will be on her agenda.

The newly elected mayor is a longtime advocate for environmental protection. A video posted online shows that in 2006, Chow and her late husband Jack Layton retrofitted their home by installing solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling.

“For the past 13 years, climate action in Toronto has been obstructed by low-tax austerity budgets,” said Pothen. “Underfunding of transportation has delayed the implementation of protected cycle tracks and RapidTO transit priority lanes on major streets and has led to service cuts for the TTC at a time when we need to be growing transit ridership.”

Additionally, underfunding and understaffing of land-use planning have delayed the proactive rezoning of Toronto's low-density neigbourhoods to bring them up to sustainable densities, said Pothen. “We hope that mayor-elect Chow's commitment to allocate the necessary funds to climate action will finally break these logjams and deliver a net-zero Toronto before it is too late."

The first person of colour elected as mayor of Canada's most populous city, 66-year-old Chow attended meetings at city hall Tuesday.

She won the mayoral byelection against 101 other candidates. Her swearing-in date is yet to be announced, and the results of the election, which took place Monday, are expected to be certified by the city clerk today.
Chow is a veteran progressive politician who previously served as a member of Parliament and a city councillor. She has promised to bring change to Toronto and make it more caring, affordable and safer for everyone.

This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists-in-Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.

This article was reposted from the National Observer

It was originally published June 28, 2023