In January 2013, Norm Kelly, now the Deputy Mayor of Toronto, reacted with scepticism to a study by experts describing the impact that climate change will have on Toronto. Kelly estimated that accepting the recommendations in the study would require billions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades.
Kelly and other councillors shrugged off concerns that climate change would contribute to more frequent and more severe extreme weather events. Kelly said that warmer temperatures in the future “tain’t bad”. In effect Tennessee’s climate of today will be Toronto’s climate tomorrow. Perhaps he did not appreciate that extreme heat waves cause serious problems for seniors and in other countries have lead to a spike in deaths of aged people?
Most of City Council agreed with Kelly. There is no sense of urgency, not even after Toronto was hit by a July deluge 2013 that caused great damage and then a December ice storm that caused even more damage. Despite the clear demonstration of what the future holds, Council did not unreservedly commit to finance immediate measures that would increase the City’s “resiliency” to extreme weather events.
As the Province covered much of the loss under the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program., the financial impact of the ice storm will be much reduced. Deputy Mayor Kelly was pleased that taxpayers, i.e. Toronto property owners, would not face a tax increase to cover the loss. The Province’s bailout lessens the pressure on Council to take steps towards mitigation and adaptation.
Council did take two steps. First, along with other Ontario municipalities it proposed that the two higher levels of Government, the Province of Ontario and the Federal Government, adopt more comprehensive programs for disaster assistance: a fair request that would carry more weight if Toronto showed it would play its part in mitigating the losses of a future disaster.
Secondly, it requested that Toronto administration study adaption measures adopted by other cities. In two-three months there will be yet another report to review.
One would have to be optimistic to believe that Council will implement significant resiliency programs during the short time before the next election. And unless climate change surfaces as a key issue in the fall election campaign, the next Toronto council will probably not be much different.