Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner.
During the 2010 municipal elections in which I am running for school board trustee, guest authors Ruth Blaicher and Karen Fox are taking over my column.
The Environment has arrived. She showed up alive and well at the ECO mayoral debate on Tuesday night, glided onto centre stage and got very comfortable. This is a new experience for the Environment in Barrie’s political debates. She usually has to sneak in the side door and lurk in the back row, drawing little if any attention. The Economy is usually the showstopper, festooned with shiny visions of growth and jobs. But something felt different this time.
In his text Environmental Economics, D. J. Thampapillai says “Clearly the natural environment is an important component of the economic system, and without the natural environment, the economic system would not be able to function”. Ethan Goffman takes this a step further in his essay, Altering Assumptions, and states: “Ecological economics considers the earth and it’s ecosystems as the larger system of which the human economy is just a sub-set.” Oops…sounds like in the world of human awareness, the environment is getting a kind of job promotion… back up to Head Office.
Hosted by Barrie’s grassroots environmental group Living Green and capably moderated by Gord Miller, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Tuesday’s debate was well equipped to explore eco issues, especially those pertaining to the challenges our city is facing due to growth and intensification. But would the voters show up? Come they did and in surprising numbers. A quick visual scan showed the formidable capacity of the Fisher Auditorium was not wasted.
Of the eight candidates invited only three braved the event, only two stayed to debate, but the depth of information and the quality and variety of questions from the audience was superb. From the questions for the candidates dealing with growth and greenhouse gas emission reductions came a range of solutions.
Rob Hamilton has plans to protect the lake and prepare for heavier storm events, grey water recycling to keep phosphorus out of the lake, creating cost savings through energy efficiency and an energy capital fund. He would create an Environmental Advisory Committee to Council, promote Barrie Central Collegiate partnering with an arts campus, balance the job mix and no longer rezone land from industrial to retail.
Jeff Lehman suggested “putting things we need closer together so we don’t have to drive everywhere,” planning new neighbourhoods for active transportation (walking & cycling) and transit, redesigning transit around arterial routes running every 15 minutes, and running Saturday and Sunday GO trains to encourage tourist traffic from the GTA. He suggests Barrie Central partner with the City for a performing arts facility, and would focus on facilitating growth of existing businesses before attracting new ones.
The Economy and the Environment are getting to know each other a little better in Barrie.
Let’s hope they can be best friends.
Ruth Blaicher and Karen Fox are local realtors and founding members of Transition Barrie with a passion for green issues and are directors of Living Green.