Friday, June 26, 2015

My Comments on Greater Sudbury's Draft Transportation Master Plan

I attended the recent public information session for the Draft Transportation Master Plan (2015) held on June 24, 2015, and made a presentation there, which included asking a question of municipal staff.  I thank Council for the opportunity to provide public input in such a venue, and to be able to interact with staff in that format.

At the conclusion of the evening, there was some discussion regarding next steps. It was not made clear that the deadline for further public submissions would be less than 48 hours later – even though there was ample opportunity to provide that information to both Council and to many of the citizens in our community which have been engaged with the review of the draft Plan.  Many of the questions that we had about the plan were only answered during the public input session, or several hours before at the Public Information Session.  As further comments from the public would be informed by new information brought forward at both of these sessions, it is incredibly unreasonable to expect submissions to be made with less than 2 days worth of time (and to only find out about the deadline through a post made to the City’s website on June 25th is, frankly, insulting).

This is not what public consultation is all about.  When many of our new council members were elected, there were promises made to the public about increased transparency and providing opportunities to the public to become more engaged in civic issues.  Given the significance and importance of this matter to the future health and economy of our City, I am simply shocked that the City has decided to cut off further public input at this time, with just 24 hours notice.

While I understand that there will still be an opportunity for additional public input as part of the review and Environmental Bill of Rights processes, I feel that it is very important for the City to take careful consideration of all public comments at this time, as revisions to the plan which are to be presented to Council on July 7th will likely put the Plan in its final form – meaning that it will likely only face further alteration if required by an outside agency, or if specifically directed by Council.

To be blunt, the public has been waiting for the completion and release of this draft plan since input was first requested in 2013.  The draft plan was only made available to the public in April, 2015.  The review of the plan raised a number of questions.  Some of those questions were answered only on June 24, while others have not been answered.  With this in mind, there is no good reason to move with undue haste now through the public consultation process. 

With this in mind, I offer the following comments:

Official Plan and Environmental Assessment Process

Part of the purpose of developing a Transportation Master Plan is to inform the Official Plan 5-year update, and to provide a base for future environmental assessments for planned infrastructure projects.  As such, the Transportation Master Plan (TMP) is far more than a guidance document – it is an important part of Official Plan (OP) and Environmental Assessment (EA) processes.  As such, what the TMP says really matters – and what it depicts on its schedules is really important.

Shifting From Auto-Focus to People Focus

Although the TMP includes a number of good measures regarding the direction that policy development may take, such as the development of a Complete Streets policy, and calls for a the development of a Transit Master Plan, what is clear is that the Transportation Master Plan has at its heart a focus on moving motorized vehicular traffic, rather than moving people.  While I believe this is the wrong focus, after a number of years of production, I acknowledge that we have probably gone too far down this particular road to turn back now.  While it would have been my preference to include robust policy and guidance for AT and transit in the TMP, I understand that we may need to wait until the time of future updates in order to have alternative transportation options for citizens treated on the same level as cars and trucks.

The TMP’s deficiency in considering cycling, walking and transit is all the more reason that the Plan should establish clear direction for the preparation of an Active Transportation (AT) Plan and a Transit Master Plan.  The TMP should direct the preparation and completion of both of these plans by incorporating timeframes for their completion.  The City should undertake to complete these plans, and budget for their completion.  The Plans themselves should include goals, objectives, timelines for action item implementation, as well as budgets. 

The Official Plan review should be informed by the completion of both the Active Transportation Plan and the Transit Master Plan.  While I understand that this may hold up the review of the Official Plan, what Council and the public heard on June 24th at the information session was that once a new transportation element appears in, or is removed from Official Plan, it is difficult for changes to be made.  With this in mind, and with questions remaining about the need for an expanded road system to meet the needs of a population which is expected to grow only modestly between now and 2031, it is important that our Official Plan include development direction based on a broad range of evidence.  The completion of the OP review should be informed by the completion of the Active Transportation Plan and the Transit Master Plan.

A Real Long-term, Sustainable Focus

The TMP lays out three scenarios for consideration.  Each scenario depicts what the City’s future road network will look like in the future.  In the “Do Nothing” scenario, which the text of the Plan indicates that only approved projects will be constructed (although it does not identify what “approved projects” are), and in which the schedule depicts no new additions to the road network, there appears to be little new construction.  The “Auto-Focused” scenario includes a large number of new roads.  And the “Sustainability-Focused” scenario includes slightly fewer new roads, and mentions that consideration will be given to alternative transportation infrastructure.  This last scenario is recommended as the preferred choice of the three.

The “Sustainability-Focused” scenario is hardly sustainable.  The significant number of new and expanded roadways it proposes has not been vetted through a needs analysis based on current data.  Data used to propose this network goes back to the 2005 Transportation Study.  Data projects a modal split of only 2% for transit riders, yet even back in 2003, the modal split was 3%, and has since risen to between 4% and 5%.  In 2031, given current trends, we can expect it to be even higher.

There is no modal split calculated for alternative transport (AT) users, despite the “Sustainability-Focus” scenario’s stated desire to have AT play a more significant role in trip generation.

Further, there is no discussion about Transportation Demand Management (TDM).  TDM can likely play an important role in alleviating congestion at peak periods where levels of service have become degraded.

Also, there has been no consideration of other activities to reduce congestion beyond expanding existing and building new roads.  The implementation of High Occupancy Vehicle lanes and car-pooling initiatives should be considered by the TMP.

Getting Serious About Sustainability

For a truly long-term, sustainable option for the development of our transportation system, it’s important that right calculations be used to justify expanding the system.  What is clear is that the right calculations to justify the expanded road network as depicted in the “Sustainable Focus” scenario have not been used, as they have failed to consider an appropriate modal split, or consider Transportation Demand Management.

Further, the outcomes depicted in the “Sustainable Focus” scenario include only the development/enhancement of existing roads to serve the needs of vehicles.  While the TMP does identify active transportation elements and refer to the development of a Complete Streets policy, these non-vehicular based elements exist outside of the 3 scenarios, and will not inform how the road network is to be considered for development through the EA process.

In recent comments made by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) regarding the EA for Second Avenue, the MOECC requested additional information on both modal split and TMD, as it appeared that the City had not considered either as part of the justification for moving forward with plans for widening Second Avenue.  Given that the TMP is intended to be a part of the EA process, fulfilling Master Plan requirements, it is not unreasonable to assume that a similar response from the MOECC may be received should this plan move forward based on an unsupported modal split, and without the benefit of TMD considerations. 

Design Standards

It’s encouraging to see that design standards for roads have been included in the TMP.  However, these design standards don’t always match the type of active transportation elements depicted on the AT schedules.  Further, in some cases the AT schedules appear to include gaps (the Kingsway between Bancroft and the downtown comes to mind) for cycling infrastructure where the TMP’s design standards suggest cycling infrastructure should be present.

Cycling Infrastructure

There should be greater direction regarding the timing of cycling infrastructure implementation on existing roads.  If we are to achieve a minimum grid, we can’t simply rely on infrastructure being included at the time of road repair.  Retrofitting existing roads will be necessary.  Council has already started budgeting for retrofits.

The Active Transportation Plan will hopefully address these matters, although again, it’s unfortunate that they weren’t addressed in the TMP.

Pedestrian Infrastructure

Safe locations for pedestrians to use to cross roads should be prioritized – especially where they coincide with bus stops.  The needs of pedestrians should be considered at the time that roadwork is to be considered.

Final Thoughts – Opportunity Costs

The economic success of any community is contingent upon a number of factors.  The types of jobs which our community is strategically positioned to pursue include well-paying, professional jobs in the mining supply, public service, health and education sectors.  In short, Greater Sudbury finds itself in competition with other communities who are trying to attract the Creative Class.

The Creative Class does not fear congestion – it embraces it.  The Creative Class knows that a successful, livable City is one in which congestion is present.  The Creative Class wants to live in communities which are transit-friendly, and cater to the needs of cyclists and pedestrians.

Cities which have emphasized the priority of fighting congestion have found that they have become less desirable locations for building the Creative Class economy due in large part to the design of the cities that they have constructed.  If fighting congestion is a priority, a city will build wide streets, and lots of them.  It will tend towards sprawl.  It will create an environment where walking and cycling isn’t a real option, and car ownership is a requirement.  In non-congested cities, transit is an economic drain rather than a healthy, accessible alternative.

For too long, our City has prioritized cars over people.  If we are going to become a destination for creative class jobs, we need to start getting serious about shifting the development paradigm from one which has emphasized unsustainable sprawl towards one founded on the principles of sustainability. 

I believe that the Transportation Master Plan, in its current form, will prove to be an impediment to building the City of Tomorrow that we will need to become to remain economically competitive into the 21st Century.  The numerous roads proposed by the so-called “Sustainability-Focused” scenario are fiscally unsustainable based on the expected growth of population and jobs.  Further, paying for the operational costs associated with these new roads will meant that we won’t be able to pay for other initiatives which would be better able to facilitate the transportation options that we need to promote livability in our community.

That’s why I hope that Council decides to wait until the Active Transportation and Transit Master Plans have been completed before proceeding to finalize the review of the Official Plan.  It’s also why I hope that Council will consider requiring a review of the modal split used to justify the expanded road network, and require that Transportation Demand Management initiatives be considered when running the model before the TMP is posted to the Environmental Bill of Rights for public comments to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.


Thank you for considering these comments.

Sincerely,

Steve May

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Friday, June 19, 2015

Letter to the City of Greater Sudbury Regarding the Keast Subdivision

It's 2015.  We really ought to know better.  Actually, we do know better, but for whatever reason, we continue to ignore this one reality: with a changing climate, we are going to experience more frequent and severe weather events, including flooding.  With this knowledge, and with recent storms in Calgary and Toronto to show us what tomorrow's reality will look like today, how is it that we continue to allow new development to locate in known floodplains?

Yet, here in the City of Greater Sudbury, developing in floodplains appears to be fairly routine.  This despite the fact that we have an Official Plan in place which clearly prohibits development in floodplains.  Further, that Official Plan is based on provincial policy which - you guessed it - also prohibits development in floodplains.  So what's going on?

Conservation Authorities were set up throughout the Province of Ontario in the wake of Hurricane Hazel back in the 1950s.  The mandate of Conservation Authorities has always been focused on better managing storm-related flooding events.  And while it is true that we can and have engineered solutions to flooding - one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to prevent damage to property and loss of life is to simply avoid building in floodplains in the first place.  The City's Official Plan acknowledges this fact, and directs development to occur elsewhere.  Yet, when development proposals are circulated to the Nickel District Conservation Authority (NDCA), the NDCA's response is invariably to allow the development, subject to floodproofing - despite the clear policy direction in the City's Official Plan.

Of course, it's the City that ultimately has the final say on these matters.  It appears to me that the City is likely to authorize development in floodplains where the NDCA has commented favourably - without first requiring an amendment to the Official Plan.  That just strikes me as bizarre, inappropriate and problematic.

The following is a letter that I provided to Greater Sudbury Council via the Clerk's Office, related to a development proposal for a plan of subdivision in the South Point area of Ramsey Lake.  Some of the details of the proposed subdivision can be found in the City's staff report.  This matter goes before Greater Sudbury's Planning Committee on Monday, June 22nd.  Part of this plan of subdivision is located in a floodplain.  City staff are recommending that it be approved, as per the NDCA's comments.

We know better.  This should not be happening.

June 19, 2015
City of Greater Sudbury
City Clerk
P.O. Box 5000 Station A
200 Brady Street
Sudbury ON P3A 5P3

Re: Application for a Zoning By-law Amendment and Draft Approval of a Plan of Subdivision
      Your File Numbers: 781-6/11-6 & 780-6/11003


“Because flooding and related hazards may cause loss of life and may result in damage to property, development in Flood Plains is generally restricted. In addition, no development is permitted within 15 metres of the Flood Plain boundaries illustrated on Schedule 4, Hazard Lands. Only uses that *by their nature must locate within the Flood Plain including flood and/or erosion control works or minor additions or passive non-structural uses which do not affect flood flows* are permitted."

            -City of Greater Sudbury Official Plan (2007), Section 10.2, Flooding Hazards, Policy #1


The above-referenced policy regarding development proposals in floodplains is not identified in the City’s Staff Report for the Keast subdivision proposal, despite the fact that a part of the subdivision is located within a floodplain as shown on OfficialPlan Schedule 4, Hazard Lands.

This is a gross omission.  While the staff report includes references to applicable Official Plan policies such as Housing, Living Area 1, and park policies (along with several others), the report is completely silent floodplain policies contained in the Official Plan – policies which clearly restrict development within and adjacent to known flooding hazards.

City of Greater Sudbury Official Plan Conformity – No Development Within Floodplains

While this latest version of the Keast subdivision is proposing less development in the floodplain, integral parts of the subdivision plan, necessary for the success of the development proposal, continue to be shown as located in the floodplain.  Specifically, the stormwater management pond and the proposed lift station.  Neither of these uses are passive uses, or uses which must locate in the floodplain.  They are active uses which should be directed to locate outside of floodplains.

The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change’s “Stormwater Management Planning and Design Manual” (2003) indicates that stormwater management ponds should not be located in floodplains, and that they may locate partially in the floodplain only under exceptional circumstances (see: Section 4.2 of the MOECC's "Stormwater Management Planning and Design Manual", 2003)

There are no “exceptional circumstances” associated with this draft plan of subdivision proposal, in my opinion. Nor are any “exceptional circumstances” highlighted in the City’s staff report which could form the basis for providing an exception to both the MOECC’s recommendations, and the City’s outright policy prohibition.

Policy 2 of Section 10.2 of the Official Plan provides additional guidance for considering development in floodplains.  It reads,

Severances, subdivisions, changes in land use, permanent new buildings and structures and private sewage disposal systems will not be permitted within the Flood Plain, except those severances for passive non-structural uses associated with roads, drainage, erosion control, utilities, flood protection, agriculture, forestry and outdoor recreation.

Note that a stormwater management pond is not a passive use associated with “drainage” or “erosion control” – ponds are active components of stormwater management facilities, and the MOECC recommends their location to be in areas outside of flooding hazards.

Consistency with Provincial Policy – Natural Hazards

While the Staff Report indicates that consideration was given to Section 3.1 of the Provincial Policy Statement(2014), it is unclear how the Staff Report arrived at its determination that the proposal is consistent with this part of the PPS.  Section 3.1.2 of the PPS indicates that development and site alteration shall not be permitted within a floodway.  Section 3.1.4 provides some exceptions to this comprehensive restriction, however none of those exceptions are at all relevant to this draft plan of subdivision. 

Section 3.1.3 of the PPS indicates that the City shall consider the potential impacts of climate change that may increase the risk associated with natural hazards such as floodplains.   The Staff Report does not discuss the potential risks from climate change of locating a stormwater management facility and lift station within a defined floodplain.

With the PPS prohibiting development within floodplains, and with a lack of climate change risk assessment, it is entirely unclear how this proposal could be considered as being “consistent” with provincial policy.

City of Greater Sudbury Official Plan – Stormwater Management

The issue of managing stormwater appropriately is a critical one, given the subdivision’s proximity to Ramsey Lake, a significant drinking water source for residents in our community.  Despite clear direction in the 2007 Official Plan to undertake a subwatershed study to assist in guiding development through an assessment of cumulative impacts on the lake, no such study has yet been undertaken.  As a result, Ramsey Lake remains vulnerable to the unknown impacts from piecemeal development proposals such as the Keast subdivision proposal.

The City’s Official Plan, however, takes into consideration the fact that subwatershed studies may not be available at the time new development is proposed, and provides a back-up policy regime for assessing these proposals with regards to stormwater management.  Section 8.6.3 of the Official Plan indicates in that,

“4. Applications for draft plan approval of subdivisions in areas where a subwatershed plan has not been finalized will include a Stormwater Management Report containing site-specific details as required by the City.”

While the City’s staff report recommends the inclusion of a condition of draft approval (proposed Condition No. 24) that directs the developer to undertake a stormwater management report, this appears to be putting off the assessment of stormwater management until after the primary approval of the subdivision (which is draft approval) and the approval of the zoning by-law amendment have already been authorized by Council.  This approach does not appear to be in keeping with Section 8.6.3 of the Official Plan, which specifies that a stormwater management report be undertaken at the time of application, and not at a time between draft approval and final approval.

Section 8.6.3 goes on to describe what the stormwater management report shall contain – all of which appear to be valuable information for informing a complete assessment of a draft plan of subdivision.  This information would be useful to Planning Committee and Council to make a decision which is consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement and which conforms to the Official Plan.  However, this information has not yet been provided to the City.

Policy 5 of Section 8.6.3 indicates,

5. A Stormwater Management Report shall contain the following:

a. The overall drainage plan for the site, indicating upstream drainage areas conveyed across the site and the ultimate outlet (major overland flow route) from the site to the municipal drainage system;

b. A plan of proposed on-site stormwater quantity control measures that will satisfy downstream capacity issues. Post-development peak flow rates from the site will be limited to pre-development peak flow rates, unless detailed analysis shows that such storage is not required;

c. A plan for erosion control;

d. A description of the measures proposed to control stormwater quality on-site. In particular, special measures must be proposed where a site is intended for industrial development; and,

e. A general grading plan, illustrating conformance with the City’s overall stormwater management objectives.

Given the known sensitivity of the receiving water source, along with Ramsey Lake’s importance as a drinking water source in our community, it is unacceptable that the City is refusing to follow its own established Official Plan policy regime for the adequate assessment of stormwater management – particularly since the proposed stormwater management facility for this subdivision is intended to be located in an area not recommended by the provincial Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.

As part of its review of an earlier draft of this subdivision proposal, the Nickel District Conservation Authority had originally indicated that the presence of a stormwater management facility in a floodplain was not acceptable.  It is unclear now why the NDCA has apparently changed its mind, given that the MOECC’s “Stormwater Management Planning and Design Manual” has not been updated since 2003.  The Staff Report presented to Planning Committee is silent on this issue – as it is silent on many of the issues related to this development proposal being located in a floodplain.

Liability

It should be noted that the proposed conditions of draft approval include, in proposed Condition No. 16 the requirement for the dedication of “Block A” of the subdivision to the City.  “Block A” includes the stormwater management facility, which is partially located in the floodplain.  In my opinion, Planning Committee and Council should seek clarification with regards to liability issues for the assumption of a stormwater management facility located in an area which is not recommended by the provincial Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, and in a location which is not authorized by the City’s Official Plan.

Other Issues

There are several reasons why this proposal is premature which I wish to highlight.
Lack of Demonstrated Need – background reports provided for the City’s 5-year Official Plan review indicate that the City already has an abundance of lands set aside in the form of vacant lots of record, and in draft approved and registered plans of subdivision to accommodate projected growth for almost two decades – well in excess of provincial requirements.  Given this circumstance, there is no demonstrated need for this plan of subdivision, nor the expensive extension of sewer and water services which are required.

Traffic – given that there is no demonstrated need for this plan of subdivision, it is unclear why its approval is being recommended in light of the fact that the only municipal road leading to the subdivision is one which has been identified by the City as having significant capacity issues.  Upgrades to Ramsey Lake road have long been proposed to better accommodate existing road users, however these upgrades have not been a significant priority for the City.  The addition of a large number of new road users will only exacerbate the present circumstance for existing road users, and may lead to the requirement for expensive retrofitting at a time when upgrading Ramsey Lake Road isn’t a municipal priority.

Threatened and Endangered Species – at this time, the Ministry of Natural Resources has not authorized permits under the Endangered Species Act.  Section 2.1.7 of the PPS (2014) indicates that development and site alteration shall not be permitted in the habitat of threatened and endangered species except in accordance with provincial and federal requirements.  Until the Ministry of Natural Resources is able to confirm the proposal is acceptable through the issuance of permits, consistency with PPS Section 2.1.7 has not been demonstrated, and subdivision approval is premature.

Analysis

Despite the recommendation made to Planning Committee by staff, it is clear that this proposed subdivision does not conform to the City’s Official Plan as it relates to development within floodplains, and is not in keeping with the policy regime established for assessing stormwater impacts in areas where subwatershed studies are required.  The proposed stormwater management pond, which is an active use integral for the success of the subdivision, is to be located in an area not recommended by the MOECC’s Design Manual.  As such, the application for draft approval of the plan of subdivision and zoning by-law amendment should be refused by Council.

These issues related to the City’s Official Plan (floodplains; stormwater management) are not new.  They have been brought to the attention of Planning Committee, municipal staff and the developer on numerous occasions, as part of the public consultation and review process.  That these matters continue to be ones which have not been addressed by the City or the developer raise questions with regards to the utility of the public review process.  Frankly, there is no good reasons why these matters remain unresolved after 2 years.

In light of the above, I respectfully urge Planning Committee to refuse these applications.

Request for Notice

Pursuant to Sections 34 and 51 of the Planning Act, please provide me with Notice of Council’s decision related to the zoning by-law amendment and the draft plan of subdivision.

Sincerely,


Steve May

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Solar Project Proponents Digging Themselves a Hole in Greater Sudbury

I've just returned from one of the most disastrous public meetings that I've ever attended. Maybe it's number 2 on my list of all-time examples of how not to hold a public meeting. And it's really too bad, too, because the meeting was about a solar energy development proposal in the City of Greater Sudbury – technically 4 separate proposals, but most people were really there just to talk about two of them. And for the most part, in my opinion, all 4 proposals seem like they may be pretty good, and will go along way to help make the City the solar capital of Northern Ontario.

That's the blogpost that I wanted to write – that Toronto-area renewable energy company SkyPower has come to town with proposals which – along with an already established solar project near Capreol – will make our community a leader in solar energy production. The envy of the Province. I believe that can still happen if decisions are ultimately made based on facts and evidence, rather than on emotion and perception. But after tonight's public-relations disaster, SkyPower is going to have its work cut out for it.

A Bizarre Process

Let me back up a moment. In fairness to SkyPower, this isn't all their fault – just mostly. The assessment process in Ontario for renewable energy projects, as laid out by the Province, has to take some of the blame. And not just because these land uses aren't approved at the municipal level, but rather by the Province – it's more bizarre than just that, even though the impacts on people are clearly local in nature.

Going in to tonight's meeting, I had a few questions about the proposals – all of which were answered by representatives of SkyPower. Unfortunately, many of those answers were quite off-putting. For example, I wanted to know where I could find the technical studies produced which would assess natural heritage impacts. Well – there haven't been any technical studies prepared at this point, beyond “paper-based” studies, which amount to looking at databases such as the Province's Natural Heritage Information Centre – which has some great data about natural heritage features, if the land in question is located in Southern Ontario. Data for the north? Not so much.

So no natural heritage site assessment has been conducted at this time. That's...far from ideal, given that social media has been alive over the past week with reports of Blanding's turtles and whipporwills being spotted on at least one of the sites. Both of those species have been designated “at risk” in Ontario. A friendly, if harried, SkyPower rep confirmed that completing an on-site assessment was part of the process, and that if sensitive habitat was found to be on site, the company would avoid disturbing it.

However, no site assessment will be undertaken prior to the IESO authorizing the contract for the project.

What? Approval in absence of technical data to demonstrate the site's feasibility? Seriously?

Yes, that's the process. And it's not just natural heritage values we're talking about here in terms of features lacking on-site assessments. It's noise (not from the panels, but from the transformer stations, which tend to hum). It's archaeology. It's stormwater. All of these technical issues will remain unanswered until the IESO gives SkyPower the approval to enter into a contract.

To me, that just seems so very bizarre. What if it turns out that there are threatened species on some or all of the sites, and ultimately the presence of those species sterilizes the site(s) from being developed for solar energy? Contracts will have been signed, approvals given, but the developer won't be able to deliver. Now I'm sure that there's some sort of protection for the developer here should things fall apart after approvals is given by the IESO. That's not really my concern with the process.

Prematurity

What I am concerned about is that SkyPower has to go out to the public at this time, before technical studies to answer the public's questions about development impacts are prepared. That's bad enough. We saw tonight how well that worked out – company reps couldn't answer many of the questions put to them with regards to the presence of species at risk, noise and surface and groundwater management. Their homework is incomplete, yet they are asking the public to give them a grade.

It gets worse. As part of the process, SkyPower will be going to our municipal Council near the end of the summer, asking for the City's endorsement of the project. Only after Council expresses its views will SkyPower go to the IESO. So, SkyPower will be asking our Council to make a decision regarding whether it should support the project in absence of the developer having demonstrated the project's suitability for the sites in question.

We saw how well that's worked out for the motorcross park developer here in the Valley just recently – the one who refused to undertake a noise mitigation study to demonstrate how noise impacts would be minimized. At least that developer had undertaken one relevant technical study before going to Council for its approval. SkyPower won't have undertaken any.

Of course, unlike the motorcross park, which was a request to amend municipal zoning, these proposals aren't going to be approved by the City. They'll be approved by the Province. The City gets to have its say, but it's within the realm of possibility that should our Council oppose any or all of these projects, the Province could still give them the go-ahead.

So, that's the process. And it's a real problem. You can thank the Ontario Liberal government for crafting this truly bizarre assessment process which puts approvals ahead of feasibility assessments. It's not SkyPower's fault.

A Public Relations Disaster

What is, however, SkyPower's fault is the unmitigated disaster that tonight's meeting turned out to be. When I arrived 15 minutes after the start of the meeting, angry residents were lined up out the doors of the library. I waited about 20 minutes just to get into the tiny meeting space SkyPower chose to hold its public meeting in. A few people didn't make it as far as I did – they saw the line-up, and they left. Having people leave before they get a chance to ask questions or voice their opinion isn't something that should ever happen at a public meeting.

Citizens lined up outside of the Valley East Public Library 15 minutes after the start of SkyPower's "public meeting"
When I finally did make it inside, the place was literally mobbed. A small number of SkyPower staff were trying to register people, distribute and take back survey information, and answer questions from the public. But not from the media.

Oh yes, the media was out in full force. And why wouldn't they be? These projects have generated a lot of interest on social media sites, especially Facebook. Many in the Valley are very upset about the proposals, for a variety of reasons – some legit, some not so much, in my opinion. Given that the projects have been subject to a number of mainstream media articles already, it stands to reason that the media would be out tonight – to talk to the angry residents, and to maybe to interview SkyPower staff in the name of “balanced reporting”.

But SkyPower wasn't talking to the media. So the media, left with only one side of the story to report from tonight's public meeting, will in all likelihood report just that one side – if the company wasn't talking to the media, the angry residents sure were.

And they were also talking elected officials who came out tonight as well – at least one local council member and the Member of Provincial Parliament for Nickel Belt. Another council member met separately with residents the night before.

Managing the Public's Expectations

Many who came out tonight expected a more traditional “public meeting” than what was being offered by SkyPower. Instead, what they got were a series of white boards with photographs placed on easels around the room, many depicting scenes of other SkyPower ventures not located in Greater Sudbury. Some had diagrams related to the process. There was very little in the way of tangible information on display, largely because, I suspect, there has been so little done (although let me be clear, as I know that's not the case – SkyPower has prepared a preliminary assessment – I've seen it, as it's been passed around through social media. It's something at least, but I couldn't seem to find any info about it at tonight's meeting. Had I wandered in off the street, I might have felt that SkyPower reps just woke up one day and had the bright idea that the Valley was a great place for solar energy and charged madly off in all directions to make it so).

Anyway, I was prepared for this sort of public meeting – it seems to be the in-thing to do nowadays, and I understand the advantages and disadvantages to doing it this way. But I was probably one of the very few there this evening who was prepared for a “meeting” like this – a meeting that really isn't a meeting, and more like a carnival ride where you enter at one end, proceed to be thrilled by the white board displays, and exit at the other, leaving your opinions behind on your experience. If you were lucky, you might have been able to try to grasp the brass ring along the way, in the form of snagging one of the SkyPower reps to answer your questions – although chances are, the questions being asked were ones for which there are currently no answers for.

Expectations matter. I understand that those whom received the letter from SkyPower about the meeting were unaware of the way in which the meeting would be conducted. I, too, looked for more information about how the meeting would be held, and I couldn't find anything online that said anything about it (in fact, I found very little about the meeting, beyond what was reported in the media – it was only through social media that I learned about the start time of the meeting). Expecting something a little more formal, I suspect led to the mob at the front doors to get in at 6pm. Had the public known how the meeting would be held, it's quite probable that we would have staggered our arrival.

Palpable Anger

So, an already angry public was, no doubt, made angrier by tonight's events. And the media will have little recourse but to publish this story, creating even more animosity towards what otherwise appear to be worthy projects (subject to further technical analysis).  SkyPower has done a great job of digging a hole for itself with the public's perception.  It must now try to climb out of it somehow - or risk having all of its projects buried in it.

Look, I'm all for renewable energy.  Anybody who has read my writing would know that.  And it's quite likely that these proposals will ultimately prove to be pretty good ones.  But this stuff matters. It matters how the public is engaged.  It matters how the media tells a story, because the media helps create perceptions amongst the broader public, giving rise to public opinion on an issue which might not have even been on the public's radar.

It is very likely that Council's decision to support (or not) these projects will be swayed by public opinion – after all, Council has little vested interest in the outcome, beyond the contracts generating some revenue for the City, should they be approved by the IESO.

One of the questions that I asked of the SkyPower rep I spoke with tonight was whether SkyPower had a public relations strategy to deal with the extreme negative fall-out from this whole experience.


SkyPower didn't have an answer for that one, either.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Bill C-51 Chill in Northern Ontario Air? Mayors Accuse Greenpeace of Terrorism, Genocide

Is Greenpeace Canada engaged in terrorist activities, leading to genocide?  That seems like a pretty over-the-top question for any sensible-minded person to ask themselves, but this  week, a group of Northern Ontario Mayors, including failed provincial Progressive Conservative candidate, Peter Politis from Cochrane, ramped up its rhetorical attacks against Greenpeace, referring to the pro-environment organization as engaging in “eco-terrorism” for its advocacy related to protecting caribou habitat (see: “The threat ofeco-terrorism has no border”, the Cochrane Times-Post, June 3, 2015). 

Earlier today on Twitter, Politis went further in response to a tweet that I made to him asking him if he considered me a terrorist, too, because I support the protection of threatened caribou habitat.  In Politis’ response, he associated environmental activism as he believes is being practiced by Greenpeace as a form of genocide – there’s really no other way to interpret a comment which alludes to “wiping out an entire race of people to enforce ur “belief”? as anything but engaging in genocide.

Bill C-51: Chilling Public Discourse

Welcome to the post-Bill C-51 world, folks.  Even though that legislation hasn’t quite worked its way through the Conservative-dominated Senate yet, it’s clear that those who are standing on the frontlines of protecting our environment and natural resources are coming under increasingly hostile fire from right-wing paranoids like Politis.

And it’s too bad, really.  Politis and other Northern Ontario Mayors have some real concerns about the economic health of our part of the Province.  However, when they ramp up the rhetoric, and accuse those with whom they don’t agree as being “radicals” and “terrorists”, it does nothing but polarize the debate – and make themselves and what otherwise might be their legitimate issues and grievances look foolish.

Or does it?  I used to believe that.  But now with Bill C-51 looming on the horizon, I’m not so sure.

The Realm of Crackpots and Cranks

Where once I and others might have been content to write off these absurd accusations as little more than the simple ravings of an emotionally disturbed individuals, Bill C-51 has changed things.  Greenpeace, an environmental organization which was founded on the notion of non-violent activism and intervention, has got to be the furthest thing away from a terrorist organization as one could contemplate.  Or it used to be.  Apparently in today’s paranoid political environment, the non-violent protests of Greenpeace and others seem to constitute a form of terrorist activity – at least in the minds of some (I’m sure there’s more than one Peter Politis lurking out there, ready to drop the “eco-terrorist” label on those engaged in non-violent actions in the name of a sustainable future).

Legal experts have warned that the provisions now contained within Bill C-51 which add new measures to the Criminal Code related to terrorism provide for an overly broad application (see: “Bill C-51, Anti-Terrorism Act,2015” submission from the Canadian Bar Association, and in particular, Section C of the Executive Summary, “Criminal Code Amendments” – page 4).  Throughout the entire Bill C-51 debate, civil libertarians and others have warned that the Bill could be used to silence dissent over certain matters – especially those having to do with the environment. 

What it Means to Be A Terrorist in Canada

There are already problems with the existing definition of “terrorism” in Canada’s Criminal Code.  As written, the current definition of terrorism could be applied to an organization which one might not believe to be engaged in terrorist activities. The Department of Justice writes about the “Definition of Terrorism and the Canadian Context” on its website,

“In Canada, section 83.01 of the Criminal Code defines terrorism as an act committed "in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause" with the intention of intimidating the public "…with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act." Activities recognized as criminal within this context include death and bodily harm with the use of violence; endangering a person’s life; risks posed to the health and safety of the public; significant property damage; and interference or disruption of essential services, facilities or systems.”

Couple the current definition of “terrorism” with an overly-broad new provision to be added to the Criminal Code around “advocating or promoting terrorism” and suddenly the activities that Greenpeace has been engaged in are cast in a new light.

Greenpeace: A Terrorist Organization?

An argument could go like this.

Some members of Greenpeace, and perhaps the entire organization, has been engaged in terrorist activity. Greenpeace has been engaged in a campaign against Resolute Forestry Products in an effort to compel the corporation to alter its current forestry harvest practices (see: “ResoluteForest Products” page on Greenpeace’s website for its take on this long-running dispute). This campaign has included the spread of misinformation (arguable) with the intent of economically disrupting Resolute’s profitability (less arguable – see: “Resolute Feud with Greenpeace Drags on Profit: CorporateCanada”, Bloomberg Business, January 12, 2015).  As a result of this action, Resolute’s profitability has been jeopardized, which then imperils the economic health and vitality of small, single-resource Northern communities, like the Towns of Cochrane and Hearst.

In other words, Greenpeace has engaged in an act, motivated by ideology, with the intention of intimidating consumers and compelling Resolute Forest Products to undertake sustainable forestry management practices, which has led to the public’s health being harmed.

That’s why some have been calling Greenpeace a “terrorist organization” for a while now.  But again, I stress that usually those who have done so have been marginalized as crack pots and cranks.  By any right-thinking person’s point of view, whether one agrees with Greenpeace’s actions or not, it is a complete stretch of the imagination to actually believe that Greenpeace has engaged in terrorist actions.  Even Resolute, which is currently embroiled in a defamation lawsuit with Greenpeace, hasn’t sought to have Criminal Code charges brought against the environmental organization on the grounds of terrorism.

Accusation of "Terrorism" Isn't Rhetorical

So why now are decidedly non-crackpots like Town of Cochrane Mayor Peter Politis and other Northern Mayors crawling out of the woodwork and levelling accusations of terrorism at Greenpeace and other environmentalists and organizations that wish to protect caribou habitat?  (I note that from what I’ve read, I would go so far as to suggest that these Mayors are asserting that Ontario’s Liberal government may also be a terrorist organization, for placing modest restrictions on harvesting wood in the critical habitat of a threatened species – although I’ve not heard that anyone with any credibility has yet accused Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne of being a terrorist – at least not over her desire to protect caribou habitat).  Can it be that they are feeling empowered by Bill C-51 to ramp up the rhetoric?

Only it isn’t really “rhetoric”, is it?  When someone calls you a terrorist or suggests that an organization that you belong to is engaged in terrorist activity, what they’re really saying is that you are breaking the law (the Criminal Code), and in one of the vilest ways imaginable.  While it is true that the term “terrorist” is bandied about far too often and with little thought to the damage it may do (I recall the famous People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – PETA-pie-throwing incident from a few years back, in which a Minister  got pied in the face, sparking Conservative MP Gerry Byrne to call for the investigation of PETA for terrorist activities – see: “Canadian Politician Says PETA Throwing a Pie is Terrorism”, Will Potter, Green Is The New Red, January 28, 2010).  And when language and terminology is politicized, even if it has a specific definition under a criminal or other statute, confusion often ensues. 

Sometimes the whole purpose of using terms like “terrorist” is for the sake of sowing confusion.  But with Bill C-51 about to become law, I for one am no longer willing to write off those like Politis who use this term as simply doing so for the purpose of making a partisan political point.  I think that there is something more sinister going on here – something which is ultimately much more dark for free speech and democracy in Canada.  It’s hard not believe that when one reads the various provisions of Bill C-51 – from those that establish a new regime for sharing information, including personal information, amongst law enforcement organizations and CSIS, about those who may be participating in activities which “interfere with the economic or financial stability of Canada” – to the new use of judicial warrants to allow CSIS agents to break the law, rather than to operate within legal limits.

Bill C-51 and the Law

When arguing the Law, lawyers like to be able to do so with some certainty.  They’re typically not fond of statutes which provide opportunities for broad interpretation.   In its response to  , the Law Society of British Columbia included this little tidbit as one of its last comments, in support of its earlier position about the overly broad and undefined terminology to be inserted into legal statutes.

“In his book The Rule of Law, Tom Bingham (a former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales) identified several principles that underlie the rule of law.  The first amongst these was that ‘the law must be accessible and so far as possible intelligible, clear and predictable.’ He said: ‘…if you or I are liable to be prosecuted, fined and perhaps imprisoned for doing or failing to do something, we ought to be able, without undue difficulty, to find out what it is we must do or must not do on pain of criminal penalty.’ “ (see: “Bill C-51, Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015 –Submissions to Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security”, the Law Society of British Columbia, March 2015). 

Operating in the Dark

You know who the proponents of Kafka-esque secret governmental and legal operations are, right?  Here’s a hint: they’re not democrats, and they’ve little interest in the rights of people like you and me.  As humans, we have rights – and we rely on the law for the protection of those rights.  When the law can be subverted and interpreted and acted on in secret, our rights are put at risk.

Those with secret agendas who like to operate in the dark clearly be the ones who benefit from the so-called “Anti-Terrorism Act”.  And they know it.  They feel empowered and emboldened by it.  We can expect to see even more accusations about terrorist activities leveled against citizens and not-for-profit organizations engaged in activism to make our communities healthier places, and our economy more sustainable.  Those on the front lines in places like Elsipogtog and Burnaby Mountain will be the first to feel the effects of this new police regime – but others who speak out in favour of social and climate justice may very well find themselves on the receiving end of the most vile sort of accusation possible – that they are terrorists working against the interests of their community and nation.

I note that in today’s Twitter exchange that Mayor Politis didn’t actually say whether or not he believed I was a terrorist because I support the protection of threatened habitat for species at risk – and specifically the woodland caribou.  Politis just kind of left that one hanging there – essentially suggesting that if I stood with Greenpeace, well, maybe…reminiscent to me at least of former Justice Minister Vic Toews infamous uttering about standing with us or the child pornographers.

From Northern Ontario to Augusta, Georgia

Politis and at least one other Northern Mayor, Roger Sigouin of Hearst, were in Augusta, Georgia recently, attending Resolute Forest Product’s annual shareholders meeting.  With Jaques Jean, a representatives from the Kapuskasing Local of the United Steelworkers, Politis and Sigouin spoke out about Greenpeace and other environmental extremists.  I’m sure that their message went over very well with rich Resolute shareholders.   (see: “Northern mayors push back againstGreenpeace”, the Kapuskasing Times, June 3, 2015). 

Of course, Politis, Sigouin and Jean glossed over the fact that Resolute, unlike many of their forestry products competitors, has been delisted by the Forestry Stewardship Council, due to non-conforming practices found going on in Resolute’s Ontario and Quebec operations. Politis, Sigouin and Jean also seemed content to confuse their largely American audience about the reality of Ontario’s woodland caribou – which is listed as “threatened” on the Species at Risk in Ontario list (SARO), and subject to the Endangered Species Act.  Rather than talk about these facts, the Mayors and the Union Rep seemed quite content to spread misinformation of their own, including throwing out the hand-grenade suggestion - reminiscent of a class climate change denial tactic - that the science around caribou being an at-risk species was unresolved. 

Of course, toadies to corporate agendas are used to dragging people’s names through the mud (although as a Sudburian, I can’t help but wonder what on earth a Steelworker was doing in Georgia, cozying up to the corporate elite).  They accuse others of spreading misinformation because they hate the facts which don’t support their own made-up view of the world.  They claim to be in favour of transparency, insinuating that their opponents are hiding behind their own agenda (which has always perplexed me, because I don’t see anybody getting rich from taking on big corporations like Resolute).  Yet they themselves refuse to answer direct questions and operate in the dark.

As part of my Twitter exchange today, I asked Mayor Politis who paid for his trip to Augusta.  I believe that the public should know if he paid for this out of his own pocket, or accepted a corporate or union ticket to travel to a foreign nation to bash a Canadian environmental organization.  Or was the ticket perhaps paid for by another source of funding available to the Mayor of Cochrane?  I think that the public has a right to know.  The Town of Cochrane has failed to adopt a municipal lobbyist registry, so citizens there really have no idea what conversations between elected officials and corporations are taking place behind closed doors, out of sight of public oversight. 

I don’t know what Mayor Politis thinks about the public’s right to know about who paid for his trip to sunny Georgia.  He didn’t reply to my tweet.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Hydro One Sale Bad For Fight Against Climate Change

Since the Ontario Liberal government announced that it would be selling Hydro One, much of the discussion has focused on whether the sale will lead to higher electricity prices.  However, there’s been little talk inside or outside of Queen’s Park about what impacts the sale of our public transmission and distribution utility will have on energy conservation and climate change.

The need to conserve energy was at the heart of the 2013 review of Ontario’s Long Term Energy Strategy.  “Conservation First: A Renewed Vision for Energy Conservation inOntario” prioritized the development of a smart grid, which would create more opportunities for connecting small-scale distributed and renewable energy generation projects to the power transmission grid.

When we think of our electrical system, we most likely visualize energy flowing one-way:  from where it’s generated to where it’s used.  In a smart grid, energy and information flow in multiple directions, creating flexibilities in grid management for both electrical generators and consumers.  Indeed, the traditional notion of “consumer” will be turned on its head in a robust, distributive smart grid, where private homes and businesses also act as mini power plants, producing their own renewable electricity through solar, wind or biomass, and selling it to the grid at a profit (for more information on Smart Grids, see: "Smart Grid: the Future of the Electric Power System. An Introduction to the Smart Grid", enbala Power Networks, September 2011).

Smart meters which monitor the time of use of electricity are probably the most familiar component of the emerging smart grid.  With real-time monitoring capabilities, home owners and businesses can better manage their electrical needs.  Grid operators can also better manage the flow of electricity to match power generation to consumer use, especially during peak hours when power is at premium.

Achieving a greater balance between energy production and energy consumption helps with conservation.  Conserving energy will go a long way to help Ontario reduce carbon emissions, especially during the high-use times when natural gas peaker plants come online for a needed energy jolt.  In 2012, electrical generation was the fourth largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the province (see: "Ontario's Climate Change Update 2014", Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, 2014).  Turning the existing grid into a true smart grid will also create jobs and save electricity users money in the long run. 

How might the sale of Hydro One impact the creation of a conservation-focused smart energy grid?  By taking control of Hydro One out of the public’s hands, other interests will come into play when it comes time to determine the future of the grid.  Higher profits from increased electrical consumption might be a more significant motivation for private investors than a focus on conservation, which by its very definition is about consuming less energy.  With profits motivating decisions, rather than sound public policy, a lever of control will be irredeemably lost.

The government says it will use the proceeds from the sale of Hydro One to improve public transit – an effort which will likely lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.  But is building better transit really contingent on the privatization of Hydro One?  In 2013, two advisory panels recommended the government use other revenue tools, including gas taxes and user fees, to fund new transportation initiatives, including transit (see: "Investing in Our Region, Investing in Our Future", Metrolinx, May 2013, and, "Making the Move: Choices and Consequences", Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel, December 2013), .  The Liberals, in a minority government situation in 2013, balked. But now with a majority, there is no good reason to ignore other revenue streams and rush into the sale of our public utility, potentially jeopardizing needed conservation efforts.


The public interest in conserving energy to reduce costs and fight climate change appears to be better served with our transmission utility remaining in public hands.  With future electricity rate increases all but inevitable, the public needs to know if we’ll be paying more to fund corporate profits, rather than investing in conservation efforts which reduce electricity consumption and carbon emissions.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Originally published as "Hydro One sale bad for fight vs. climate change", the Sudbury Star, Saturday, May 30, 2015 (print and online), without hyperlinks.