Franz Hartmann is the executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance. In a series of posts leading up to the municipal election this fall, he’ll be discussing environmental priorities for the city and assessing the leading candidates’ environmental policies.
Unless bizarre things happen on election day, Toronto will wake up to another green Council on October 26: that’s what the results of our recent environmental survey suggest. This means whoever becomes Toronto’s next mayor will have little opportunity to do anything but continue building on ten years of environmental success in the city.
To many, this goes against the received wisdom that Toronto voters are poised to elect a mayor and councillors who care a great deal about cutting taxes and little about the environment. True, the current mayoral frontrunner has made it clear he has little interest in the environment and wants to spend his term cutting costs, programs, and services. (You can see all the mayoral candidates’ environmental scores here.) And true there is voter discontent with how City Hall has been managed.
But these truths don’t change two important facts.
First, top candidates in a majority of Toronto’s forty-four wards have committed to six environmental priority actions that will continue building on ten years of environmental success. This commitment was made publicly when candidates completed a twenty-question survey developed by the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) and sent to candidates in early August.
The TEA survey asked “yes” or “no” questions designed to get candidates on the public record on whether they would support key environmental actions such as building the Transit City Plan by 2020, getting green bins into apartments and condos, and supporting the City’s Sustainable Energy strategy.
In twenty wards, incumbents scored A or higher, and in a twenty-first the incumbent scored a B. In another four wards, the top candidates scored A or higher. Assuming all incumbents get re-elected, there could be at least twenty-five councillors who are publicly committed to building a green city.
Of course, there is no guarantee that a candidate agreeing to support an environmental priority in a survey will support that priority at City Hall. That is always the risk of any promise made by candidates. But the fact that the survey is now part of the public record will hopefully go a long way towards ensuring candidates follow through with their promises once they are elected. More importantly, the fact that candidates felt it important enough to go on the public record in support of the six environmental priorities suggests candidates know this is what the public wants. And few councillors are interested in breaking promises, especially environmental, that have widespread political support.
Which gets us to another important fact. Toronto’s next mayor does not alone have the power to turn back the clock on environmental successes. Many Torontonians who don’t follow the ins and outs of politics may think that the mayor has the same power as a provincial premier or the prime minister, but while the latter two can dictate public policy, the mayor cannot. For example, if Toronto’s next mayor wants to eliminate streetcars and gut the city’s environmental initiatives, he cannot do it without the support of a majority of councillors. The mayor, after all, only has one vote at City Council.
Yes, the mayor grabs media attention, and yes, the mayor has the power to make important appointments to Council committees. But the mayor cannot legally change any government policy without Council support.
Which is why those voters who care about the environment should make sure they vote for candidates who have committed to building a greener city. Read the TEA report card to find out how candidates scored in your ward. Talk to your friends and neighbours and make sure they know how their candidates scored. If Torontonians vote for the environment on October 25, they will wake up to a green Council. Then, Toronto’s next mayor will have to choose between leading the green Council or watching from the sidelines as it continues building a greener Toronto.
Get more municipal election coverage from Torontoist here.