Hamilton adopts climate action strategy with $11.4 billion price tag over 3 decades

By Nathan Sager

Published on August 8, 2022 at 6:28 p.m.

Some elected councilors and community activists question whether the city’s long-awaited climate action strategy is bold enough to protect residents.

Councilors and Mayor Fred Eisenberger voted 12 to 1 at a General Issues Committee meeting on Monday to adapt the climate strategy, the costs of which will be incorporated into the City of Hamilton’s annual budget. Its two main components are known as CEEP (Community Energy and Emissions Plan) and CCIAP (Climate Change Impacts Adaptation Plan). The move comes after consultations with numerous community groups earlier this summer.

Three and a half years ago, the same council declared Hamilton to be in a climate emergency and asked staff to create a response.

Hamilton residents are experiencing more frequent extreme heat events and prolonged dry spells that are affecting people’s health outcomes. Climate change, as the CCIAP report notes, is also forcing Hamilton ratepayers to “fix expensive infrastructure, increase escarpment erosion, and damage escarpment access roads,” assuming that ‘It’s ‘equally imperative to adapt and prepare for these climate impacts that we can no longer avoid.’

Indigenous-led, social, environmental and equity-seeking groups were consulted on the plan. Trevor Imhoff, senior project manager with the city’s air quality and climate change team, said CEEP will need an investment of about $11.4 billion now. until 2050, from all three levels of government.

That’s about $370 million a year. Hamilton’s annual budget is currently around $2 billion.

“We have no choice,” Ward 1 Coun. says Maureen Wilson. “Inaction will cost us more money.

“It’s time for the biggest devil in this detail, because of how heat stays in the body and affects the body, especially as you get older,” Wilson added. “This is a growing concern for health practitioners across the country. I would just like to emphasize to our staff the urgency of responding to it.

Cost of Hamilton Community Energy and Emissions Plan. (City of Hamilton)

A recent report by the Intact Center on Climate Adaptation, in partnership with the University of Waterloo, indicates that Hamilton faces the second highest risk of extreme heat among cities in Canada. Monday’s discussion came as the city entered the third straight day of a heat event.

“Prolonged heat waves will be a part of the future, and that’s why it’s important to plan ahead,” said Thomas Cooper, a representative for the Hamilton Roundtable on Poverty Reduction, in his delegation at the meeting.

“It is unwise to believe that southern Ontario will be spared. According to the tracking traced by NASA (the North American Space Agency), the heat episodes that occurred once every 20 years will occur every two or three years. As we speak, St. Petersburg, Russia is warmer than St. Petersburg, Florida.

“People experiencing poverty and social exclusion are the hardest hit,” Cooper added. “Especially those who live in inadequate housing or have insufficient income. In extreme heat, skyscrapers become heat traps. These days, it’s rare to find homeowners investing in heat mitigation. But we are seeing (US) cities such as Dallas and Phoenix passing laws requiring landlords to keep buildings below 27 degrees Celsius.

At the same time, many families worry about bearing the cost of creating a greener society. Interviewed by Ward 6 Coun. Tom Jackson, Imhoff said that by 2050 the average Hamilton household will have $2,873 less in heating and electricity costs than by 2022.

He also indicated that the city has made progress in discussions with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities on the creation of a HERO program (Home Energy Retrofit Opportunity) that would allow homeowners to take out loans from a credit union to finance green renovations. Environment Hamilton, which delegated Monday in support of the climate strategy, suggested the HERO program last year.

“We intend to prioritize households that are on the verge of energy poverty, as well as older homes to minimize greenhouse gases,” Imhoff said.

“Act Boldly”

Longtime local political watchdog Don McLean, co-founder of Citizens at City Hall, suggested methods for engaging Hamilton residents in climate action have been overlooked.

“The strategy we’re delegating today has flaws and fuzzy thinking, but climate action is important,” McLean said. “But we are facing a situation in which an increasing number of people are not listening to politicians, as we witnessed with the record low voter turnout (43%) in our recent provincial election (June 2) . They don’t believe government politicians will protect them, which is the government’s responsibility.

“We have to get their attention and act boldly,” added McLean. “That need is really critical.”

In his delegation, McLean suggested that the city dedicate $10 million a year to green and environmental remediation and make local public transit free. That would be roughly ‘double’ what the Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA) did this spring when it acquired 50 acres of land to reclaim wetlands. This move is intended to reduce erosion and flooding in the Stoney Creek area.

“Let’s take this example of what you (through the HCA) have done and build it,” said McLean, who also argued that a family’s savings from improved, free public transit (he currently costs $2.55 per trip for PRESTO card users) would exceed household savings. “It’s time to make public transit free and ensure no one waits longer than 15 minutes for a bus. Who helps.

“We have to act as government and show that as government we care about people,” McLean said. “Free public transit would save about $5,000 per year (in expenses) for a family of four with two school-age children.”

Although the conservation authority was cited as a good example, the president of the HCA and the Ward 12 Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, voted against the climate adaptation strategy.

Ferguson, who is retiring after representing the affluent neighborhood of Ancaster for 16 years, balked at an outgoing council voting to hire a director, with a salary of $215,000, to lead the climate change office . He suggested that be postponed until the new board sits in December.

“It’s $215,000 a year for the rest of our lives,” Ferguson said. “It’s a bit unacceptable to add this kind of budgetary impact for the next council. I’m not going to weigh down this future advice.

At the GIC last week, Ferguson also pushed through an amendment to exempt Ward 12 from a citywide “soft density” plan intended to further allow more housing options to be built. It was approved 5-2, but would need full board ratification on Friday.

District 12 Com. Lloyd Ferguson. (CHCH / YouTube)

That $215,000 salary is on par with the pay of city managers and police superintendents, when inflation is applied to last year’s Ontario Sunshine List, the public record for government employees with six-figure salaries. In 2021, for example, a few Hamilton police superintendents made over $200,000. Mayor Eisenberger, Chief Librarian Paul Takala and Chief City Planner Steve Robichaud all had salaries of around $193,000.

The salary is well below that of Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elizabeth Richardson ($373,000 last year) and Chief of Police Frank Bergen ($267,000).

“We are already burdening our children and grandchildren,” Wilson said when speaking out after Ferguson’s comments.

The Climate Change Office will be part of the City’s Planning and Economic Development Department.

Several towns in the Lake Ontario watershed have hired staff who focus solely on climate change planning. Brampton has five such employees and Mississauga has 3.5.

Hamilton will also create a Climate Change Advisory Council, with an emphasis on selecting a cross-section of Hamilton residents. With the meeting taking place during business hours, most of the live delegates were middle-aged or older adults.

While the plan must be ratified at the next council meeting, the majority of elected officials have already voted in favor. Eisenberger, Wilson, Jackson and Couns. Jason Farr (Sector 2), Nrinder Nann (3), Russ Powers (5), Esther Pauls (7), John-Paul Danko (8), Brad Clark (9), Maria Pearson (11), Arlene VanderBeek (13) and Judi Partridge (15) voted in favor of the climate adaptation strategy.

Members absent. Sam Merulla (4) and Brenda Johnson (10) are not running for election. District 14 Com. Terry Whitehead is on sick leave.

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