TEA time for Toronto

Click here for the article as it appears on EYE WEEKLY’s official website. Originally published July 9, 2010.

In assessing the environmental platforms of the five front-runners, the Toronto Environmental Alliance has sent a warning alarm: environmental issues are on the back-burner in our municipal debate.

In the report card, TEA assigned a series of smiley-to-frowny faces to the five front-runners. No surprise, Angry Rob Ford got the most frowns; Joe “Transit City” Pantalone the most smileys. What the report really shows is that there is a middle ground for environmental issues in the city — a middle ground that has been complicit in allowing non-solutions to stay on the table.

As suggested, TEA places a lot of faith in Transit City (and light-rail transit). It is a specific priority and a long-term plan, despite the current funding divide with Queen’s Park. While these candidates (again, Pantalone excepted) could be addressing this issue head-on, most have taken up the symbolically powerful subway as their catchall transit solution.

Ford, Rocco Rossi and Sarah Thomson seem attracted to the civic image of subways: that commuter chaos is ordered by subterranean feats of engineering. For a metropolis like Toronto, subways hold the allure that canals and railways did to small towns in the 19th century. They are talismans of progress and economic (even sustainable) development, but a subway below does not necessarily mark the existence of those qualities above grade. This isn’t news to many, but it might be to three of the candidates.

Given the importance of outstanding events or showy proposals in municipal politics, it’s surprising that waste management has fallen off the radar. The TEA priority was 70 per cent waste diversion — only Pantalone scored the smiley face on that front — acknowledging that it’s best to deal with waste upstream. You would think that after last summer’s garbage strike, now immortalized on film, Torontonians would have a better handle on the challenges and importance of waste management.

Yes, the garbage strike was a dispute between labour and government, but for almost an entire summer we smelt the mess we dealt — yet what do we have to show for it? A proposal from Smitherman for trash incineration (really?) and a reminder from Sarah Thomson that apartment complexes need to have blue and green bins? The only place this has actually been addressed is in the recent provincial Eco-Fee that went nearly unnoticed when you cashed your HST cheque. The Eco-Fee charges manufacturers for the cost of disposing of hazardous material. Did I mention it was almost unnoticed? This is an important issue and, given municipal jurisdiction over waste management, it should be part of the mayoral race.

Clearly, the environmental debate has stalled midway though this mayoral campaign. TEA is setting down a challenge to the candidates to get it moving again. They’ve only got a few months before their final exam.

PS: to the Toronto Environmental Alliance, no more smiley faces next time. Go with letters or something — seriously.


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