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What’s happening in Vaughan after declaring a climate emergency three years ago?

Activists say we 'need to do a better job' in pushing the government for more action on climate change
Oct. 4, 2021
Dina Al-Shibeeb

In 2019, Vaughan, Aurora and King declared a climate change emergency, with Newmarket joining the group in early 2020.

A few years later, southern Ontario has witnessed new records in rainfalls and heatwaves.

Despite the declaration and Vaughan having its own environment master plan formulated in 2009 and later updated in 2019, environmentalists say everyday citizens need to lobby all levels of government to further catapult action to combat climate change.

“We all need to do a better job in pushing all politicians to act on climate,” said Gideon Forman, a climate change and transportation policy analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation.

With Vaughan being the only Ontario municipality outside Toronto with a subway, Forman described how both transportation and housing are the two “biggest drivers” of climate change in this part of the province.

“We've got to help people get out of cars and trucks,” he said, pointing to electric buses, light rail and making cities more attractive for walking and cycling.

This also translates to protecting Vaughan’s Greenbelt, which is being threatened by the provincially proposed Highway 413.

In a Sept. 23 statement, the city announced the Al Palladini Community Centre was closed due to flooding. In an email, the city added the flooding was caused by a water service break, the cause of which is still undetermined.

In September, Environment Canada reported about 158 mm of rainfall in Vaughan with the majority of rain -- 56 mm -- falling Sept. 22.

Increased rainfall has long been flagged as a risk in Vaughan and southern Ontario, making management of storm water a priority. Within the approved 2021 budget, Vaughan has allocated $48.5 million toward what it describes as the “Council’s Environmental Stewardship priority this year.”

Also, $36.8 million is planned on the environment for 2022, making a total of $85.3 million.

So far, the two largest projects that fall under this category are the Black Creek Channel Renewal and storm water management improvement at various locations throughout the city, representing 46 per cent of the capital plan.

Irene Ford, a Vaughan citizen and an environmentalist, described how the city, “says a lot of the right things, but it's not reflected in the decisions that the council takes.”

For example, regional councillors and the mayor backed Highway 413, with Regional Coun. Linda Jackson defending her stance by saying people want to drive their cars amid the stark reality of traffic gridlock suffered by local residents.

“Often I think their staff is put in a very difficult position to actually implement and bring about the change that is required to address the climate emergency,” Ford added.

In an email, Ford wrote to council to withdraw June 8 recommendations and endorse a staff report by not supporting an application to redesignate lands from agricultural to rural area in the Greenbelt fingers.

In 2009, council approved Green Directions Vaughan as the city's sustainability and environmental master plan. And in 2019, it adopted a new version which aligns the city with the United Nationals sustainable goals and recognizes the “importance of the agricultural system and supporting urban-agriculture and local food opportunities within the city.”

However, Vaughan council is now faced with a the provincial mandate for its growth plan for 2051. If approved, this would spell the demise of prime agricultural land.

“They continue to put the economy and profit first, not addressing the actual issues," Ford said. “I think people need to speak to their politicians.”

Vaughan announced this month that it has planted 1,800 trees this summer and more than 24,000 new LED lights have been installed in the city in its latest efforts to use technology to show “commitment to protecting the environment and fostering a green community.”