Mayoral debate of environmental, waste management issues reveals future opportunity for Ontario business

On September 25, 2003, the Ontario Environment Industry Association (ONEIA) presented an “Environmental Business Opportunity” at its Special Toronto Mayoralty Luncheon in which some of the prime candidates debated environmental issues.

The original guests scheduled to debate were David Miller, John Nunziata and John Tory, with Global News Anchor Leslie Roberts moderating the debate. However, Mr. Roberts announced that Mr. Nunziata had just experienced a “professional crisis at the last minute” and sent his regrets and that another prime mayoral candidate, Tom Jakobek, would fill his spot. (Elections Canada laid a campaign-finance complaint against Mr. Nunziata dating back to the 2000 federal vote.) The absence of another prime candidate and former mayor, Barbara Hall, was also noted.

The candidates shared their perspectives on what they would do to improve Toronto’s air, land and water quality as well as to increase waste diversion rates. Car pollution was cited as a major obstacle to cleaner air and the lack of better water quality was blamed on lack of funds to replace old pipes and to conduct more thorough testing.

Tom Jakobek, a 20-year Toronto Council veteran known for shutting down the largest source of dioxins in the Beaches-Riverdale area (an old incinerator), was the most opinionated when discussing his view of which initiatives he thought Toronto could or couldn’t afford to implement. For instance, he disagrees with his opponents’ proposed plans to expand the transit system. Instead, Mr. Jakobek proposes to boost use of the current system by modifications to make it less expensive and more convenient. He suggested the use of “Smart Cards” used in New York City, which he says paid for themselves in two years.

John Tory, a lawyer who was formerly head of Rogers emphasized the potential for business partnerships to raise money to expand the transit system and for other initiatives that the city may currently find restrictive. He also pointed to the need to help congestion at York University during weekdays. He noted the 900 buses that transport students and called it a “three-ring circus.” As a member of the Toronto Board of Trade, Mr. Tory also pointed to the importance of economic incentives to retrofit buildings to be less environmentally taxing.

David Miller, a lawyer and TTC Commissioner, is the only candidate who firmly opposes the expansion of the Island Airport. He called for better leadership to carry out the plans that already exist to enhance the pedestrian elements and re-naturalization of the waterfront. Mr. Miller also praised alternative energy initiatives in the city, mentioning the wind power generator at the CNE grounds, and calling for more of these types of developments and green building projects.

All candidates said they propose to support further alternative energy sources, including wind farms but also expanding solar system installations. Mr. Tory mentioned a recent trip to Tel Aviv in which he noticed there were solar panels implemented on rooftops across the city. He questioned why we’re not yet harnessing more of renewable energy sources. There was also a consensus that Ontario Hydro should remain in public hands.

The candidates were asked to comment on how they planned to accelerate waste diversion. Mr. Tory noted the significant challenge the city should address with regard to recycling rates at high-rise buildings. He also proposes to expand the deposit-return program to include LCBO bottles. He noted the Brewers’ 98 per cent recycle rate of its beer bottles. Mr. Jakobek criticized the several trucks that haul waste, recyclables and yard waste and discussed the idea of scrapping the curbside collection program in favour of a centralized separation facility. Mr. Miller would like to stay on course with what the Waste Diversion Taskforce 2010 outlined and to expand the green bin program.

The panelists were also asked how they would accelerate the redevelopment of brownfield sites. Mr. Jakobek denounced the recently released national plan for brownfield redevelopment, saying it is “all talk and no action.” The candidates were in agreement that there was a need for further tax incentives to redevelop these sites that have traditionally been risky and expensive to redevelop.

The environmental industry representatives present were pleased to hear that all candidates would give preference to credible and competitive made-in-Canada technologies and services over foreign bidders.

Markham, Ontario-based CPG-Franz Environmental Inc., a leading environmental consulting and engineering firm, sponsored the event.

The vote will be held on November 10, 2003.
For further information on the event or ONEIA, contact Todd Latham, ONEIA Director, at 416-442-2185