Hamilton 350 is a climate action group guided by the necessity to stop global climate change. We look for the best ways for us to contribute to that goal. A strong argument can be made that the level of government that is the main obstacle to climate action in Hamilton is the same as in the rest of Ontario – the current provincial government.
The federal government is usually identified as the make or break climate decision-maker, but Canada is a federation where provincial governments wield a great deal of power. For example, Alberta pressure is a major reason the feds purchased and are expanding the Trans Mountain pipeline project. Pipelines inside Ontario like the recently withdrawn fracked gas one across the Beverly Swamp fall under provincial jurisdiction (specifically the Ontario Energy Board) whose policies are decided by the provincial government (hence climate change is not part of the OEB mandate). The rules governing endangered species, wetlands, forest protection, and wildlife habitat are provincial (or in some cases federal). The recent gutting of the Conservation Authorities is a clear case in point.
Legally and in many practical ways, cities are “children of the province”. The building code needs to be modernized to require net zero construction, but that code is set by the province, not the city. Facilitation of sprawl development (Ontario’s tar sands) is now clearly being driven by provincial growth policies and under Ford it is actually being dictated by the province. Most transportation emissions in our area are from travel between cities because nearly 40 percent of the Hamilton workforce is employed outside the city. That makes effective emission-limiting policies difficult for Hamilton to put in place.
So fighting climate change in Hamilton necessarily requires overcoming provincial obstacles.
The provincial attack on the Conservation Authorities touched a public nerve and resulted in a very large wave of opposition. Over 45,000 emails were sent in opposing the changes, and in late January over 1200 people attended a webinar on next steps in this fight (which is far from over – see: https://hamiltoncatch.org/articles/2021/01/18/conservation-authorities-battle-far-from-over.) Hamilton 350 and other climate groups have an opportunity to further engage this movement in climate action both locally and at the provincial level.
The fight for a safe climate cannot be separated from the fight for a healthy natural environment. The Conservation Authorities reflect an early recognition of our dependence on the health of the environment and our interconnectedness with the watersheds in which we live. The Hamilton Conservation Authority owns over 11,000 acres of mostly forested natural areas – far more than the city government – and the activities on those lands are much more sustainable (far more beneficial to non-human species) compared to city parklands which are overwhelmingly sports facilities and make very little contribution to climate or environmental stability.
The attack on the Conservation Authorities is part of a very damaging campaign by the current provincial government that started with eliminating the office of the environmental commissioner, ripping up the existing Ontario climate plans, and blocking green energy projects (even tearing down windmills in one location). In our area and other parts of the province, the Ford government is eagerly continuing colonial policies and seeking to criminalize Indigenous people and their allies (the attacks on the defenders of 1492 Land Back Lane are one example). In addition, the Ford government has essentially destroyed the environmental assessment process (put in place in 1969); is pushing ahead with major new highways (413 and Bradford Bypass) without assessments; and advancing enormous mining projects (Ring of Fire). It has ripped up provincial growth plans aimed at reducing urban sprawl and replaced them with pro-sprawl directives. In Hamilton this translates into plans to consume all the remaining farmland not protected by the Greenbelt and cover it with residential subdivisions. The Ford government has been issuing Ministerial Zoning Orders about once a week to override rules that restrict or limit environmental damage by developers. It has crippled the provincial Endangered Species legislation with ‘pay to slay’ rules that replace protection of wildlife habitat with the option of paying a fee to destroy them. And it has openly declared that Ontario ‘has already made sufficient contribution’ to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The resignation of most of the Greenbelt Council shows they understand that this government is also an enemy of the Greenbelt.