Thunder Bay Council Approves Climate Emergency Resolution

Climate Change - Image: depositphotos.com
Climate Change - Image: depositphotos.com

THUNDER BAY – NEWS – On Monday, January 13th, 2020, Thunder Bay City Council voted unanimously to declare a climate emergency. Thunder Bay joins with 475 other Canadian municipalities and the federal government in what admittedly is a largely symbolic measure.

The EarthCare Climate Adaptation Working Group, chaired by Aynsley Klassen, asked the EarthCare Advisory Committee of Council to ask City Council to make the declaration. The Advisory Committee agreed, and Councillor Foulds made the motion.

City Councillors received many emails from residents in support of the declaration and 76 postcards from the youth-led climate strike on November 29th. Council received a petition with over one thousand signatures and more than a dozen letters of support for the declaration from community organizations.

Aynsley Klassen and Courtney Strutt from the EarthCare Climate Adaptation Working Group made the case for declaring a climate emergency in a deputation to Council. They were followed by a deputation from local science teacher Matt Roy.

Many Councillors asked excellent questions and made statements supporting the deputation.

Councilor Foulds acknowledged Thunder Bay’s leadership on climate changed and noted that much work is still to be done. He noted his support for Canadian firefighters helping fight fires in Australia but pointed out that it is not OK that we’ve changed the climate in such a way that we need to send people halfway around the world to fight fires.

Speaking with Councillor Foulds on the weekend, the Current River Councillor said that our region has seen serious issues with wildfires. Foulds commented on the recent evacuation of Bearskin Lake First Nation over flooding as a sign of things to come.

The issues of climate change and the wildfires in Australia have been the topic of a very poor taste joke in our city this past week. Moving to real action would show that the council actually understands the scope of the problem.

Perhaps Thunder Bay could look toward increasing the capacity of our city to handle evacuees. The old LPH and other city buildings could be converted to emergency crisis centres.

Councillor Ruberto spoke of where the motion could take Thunder Bay – for example, to supporting more active transit.

A Very Crowded Thunder Bay Transit bus on the Crosstown Route
A Very Crowded Thunder Bay Transit bus on the Crosstown Route

Thunder Bay Transit is likely to see transit rates increase to $3.00 per ride in the next budget. There are many using buses in the city. However, the service could do more to attract more ridership.

Declaring a climate emergency will raise awareness of the urgency of climate change and will help the City consider everything through a climate lens. It acknowledges the seriousness of the climate crisis and is a step towards tackling climate change more aggressively at the municipal level. Citizen engagement led to a unanimous vote at Council.

Getting rid of the litter and having bio-degradable beverage containers would help
Getting rid of the litter and having bio-degradable beverage containers would help

What Else Can Council Do?

Thunder Bay as a city could follow in the footsteps of Fort Frances. Tonight, Fort Frances town council passed a motion banning single use plastic bags. Thunder Bay could examine taking this one step further and require either a deposit on disposable beverage containers, or a ban on non-biodegradable single use beverage containers.

The Fort Frances bylaw, once enacted, essentially does 3 things. It will:

  1. prohibit the distribution of single-use plastic bags at checkouts;
  2. prohibit the distribution of single-use foam food containers for prepared foods (such as styrofoam cups or takeout containers); and
  3. require that plastic drinking straws be available on request only.

The purpose of this is to reduce the amount of single-use products that are destined for litter and landfill and to require consumers and businesses to make more sustainable and environmentally-friendly choices.

The bylaw will come into effect on January 1, 2021, but the fines it creates do not come into effect until January 1, 2022. The purpose for this phased approach is to allow businesses and consumers time to adapt their practices.

Winter biking on the network of trails is a great way to get around our city.
Winter biking on the network of trails is a great way to get around our city.

Thunder Bay could ensure that snow clearing efforts keep bike lanes open and work to encourage and support getting people out of their vehicles and on bike lanes. As the climate changes, winter bike commuting is a real step into the future.

Embracing our Climate

Thunder Bay often it seems is fighting our climate rather than embracing it. Council is proposing a $40 million dollar indoor turf facility – one which if you think of it fights our climate, rather than embraces it.

Northwestern Ontario is a winter paradise with so many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors during the colder months of the year.

We have amazing skiing, both alpine and Nordic. While many flock to Lutsen Minnesota, the reality is “The Main” at Mount Baldy is a far more challenging run. Loch Lomond also offers some simply incredible alpine skiing. For people in Duluth who head to Lutsen, my suggestion is to check out the ski hills in Thunder Bay. For those in Thunder Bay, take the time to take advantage of learning downhill skiing.

We have lots of fantastic Nordic skiing. Groomed trails at the Kam Nordic Centre will find you fully engaged in this amazing fitness opportunity.

Stop fighting winter, grab a hold and slide into smiles.
Stop fighting winter, grab a hold and slide into smiles. #embracewinter

We should be encouraging our young people to put down their X-Box and Playstation controllers and get out and enjoy the outdoors. Skating, pond hockey, tobogganing, and other outdoor activities.

The same holds true across the city for hockey and skating. You can just get out and skate at many places across the city, Lake Tamblyn at Lakehead University is likely one of the lesser-known diamonds in our city for winter fun.

Skaters at Lakehead University enjoying the ice on Lake Tamblyn.
Skaters at Lakehead University enjoying the ice on Lake Tamblyn.

There are lots of things that this City Council could do to show real leadership here. Passing this symbolic motion shows their hearts are in the right place, now let us see if they have the smarts and the courage to make a real difference.