Say your name is Torontorella. And in your dusty daydream drawer sits a magic checklist that, with every item ticked, transforms your pumpkin of a city into a thriving green wonderland. Why, any six-year-old would ask, would the humdrum town let moths nibble away at the list in the dark?
This is the question raised by eco heads at a gathering called Pledge TO Green at City Hall on October 14. They're trying to dust off Toronto's Clean, Green And Healthy environment plan, officially adopted by council six years ago, and get local candidates to pledge to finish what was started.
To be fair, the city has committed to greening its roofs and its fleet, as well as banning pesticides and planting trees, but look beyond that and what do you have? Not nearly enough, say activists.
Sure, relative to, say, McGuinty's Liberals or Harper's Tories, the city's clearly a green leader, says Keith Stewart, formerly of Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) and now with the World Wildlife Fund, to the crowd of 100 who've filed into council chambers this blustery Saturday. But apply a more meaningful yardstick and we don't look quite so heroic.
"Relative to what is actually necessary to prevent climate change and prevent hundreds and thousands of people from dropping dead from pollution," says Stewart, "we're woefully lacking in action."
Yes, the city has tinkered with improving the energy efficiency of its buildings and filling buses with biodiesel. But there's still no cohesive grand plan to fight smog and climate change. And we've gone absolutely nowhere, say activists, in terms of our commitment to buy 25 per cent of the Toronto's power from green energy, as council signed on to do back in 2000. Even after a cooler, rainy summer with few haze days, the city still got slapped with a C- on TEA's 2006 Smog Report Card (down from a B+ the year before).
"We haven't been able to break through the inertia of a firmly entrenched status quo," adds Stewart. "You don't do that by tweaking things around the margins."
Greg Allen, president of Sustainable Edge and one of the original contributors to the plan, says we have to "change the normative means by which we undertake development in this city." To paraphrase En Vogue, Toronto just needs to free its mind and the rest will follow you know, like the global champs of liberated policy development, the Swedes.
"Sweden has just adopted [a commitment to having] a carbon-free economy by 2020. I have no idea what they're thinking, but at least they're thinking. We haven't even imagined that that's possible at this point."
But beyond the visionary stuff, T.O.'s been largely ho-humming on the street-level nitty-gritty, too. Speaker after speaker slams the city's failure to pay more than lip service to bike lanes while it prioritizes bubbled-in drivers over folks who actually walk the streets, keeping this from becoming a middle-American ghost town.
"When you go to a city, do you judge it based on your ability to drive around?" asks urban issues consultant and former councillor Richard Gilbert. "You judge a city on the quality of your experience as a pedestrian, and we have failed miserably in the last few years."
Gilbert points to last month's resignation of Toronto pedestrian committee co-chair Helen Riley as proof of that botch job. "In her resignation statement [Riley] said, "We have no advocates on council. '" Indeed, according to Riley's public goodbye letter, her patience with "talking in the wind" had run out.
Still, not everyone's disappointed with our green progress. Franz Hartmann, Jack Layton's former EA, who helped pen the plan, pats the city on back for its 40 per cent diversion rate, green bin program and, less predictably, its controversial purchase of Green Lane Landfill last month, which, he says, only gives us an incentive for further waste diversion. "The more waste we divert from our landfill, the longer our landfill lasts," he chirps.
The first and most enthusiastic applause of the day goes to Hartmann's swipe at burning T.O.'s trash: "Anyone signing that pledge is signing a pledge not to support incineration."
Speaking of which, where is Jane Pitfield? A quick look around reveals that the mayoral hopeful/incineration enthusiast has yet to show (though she has committed to signing the pledge, according to the event's website). Indeed, the only candidates who actually sit through the eco schooling session are newbies hoping to score a seat in November's election. Most incumbents don't appear until an hour and a half in, when the cameras are lined up and the giant pledge form is being signed.
Later still, both Mayor David Miller and Pitfield do show, so I scurry over to the lady in lime green to fill her in on what enviros have been saying. Can one sign the pledge to green T.O. and support incineration?
"I don't support incineration, I support something more advanced and more environmentally safe." Ah, yes, energy from waste, aka incineration with benefits.
Pitfield proceeds to tell me about how she tries to prioritize the environment. But "there are certain inconsistencies," she concedes without prodding. "Yes, I do drive a small SUV." She adds that she loves to bicycle, but then another confession: "To be brutally honest, I only really ride during Bike To Work Week."
If these are our green friends, who needs foes? After pegging Pitfield as a "fair-weather friend of the environment," Parkdale-High Park candidate Gord Perks (who pushed for the environment plan back when he was at TEA) notes that any failures to implement the eco map can be attributed to foot-draggers on council.
"Unfortunately, council's green leadership has been plagued by a lot of obstructionists. Sylvia Watson and David Soknacki on budget committee have sabotaged the cycling plan, public health and public transit repeatedly. At the end of the day, the mayor is only one of 45 votes and hasn't had enough councillors to support a green agenda."
Still, Perks insists that thanks to the work of pols like Joe Pantalone on the environmental round table, "Toronto can now say it has easily the best environmental record of any city in North America. We divert more, we're the first city with green development standards, we have the fastest-growing transit ridership of any city in North America, we have a green energy plan, a green roof plan."
Okay, so he clearly missed the earlier critiques, but he has a point.
Closing keynote speaker and Green party leader Elizabeth May tells us we need to see, and sell, the environment plan from a whole other angle to propel it forward.
"It's not really an environment plan; it's a civilization plan. It's a survival plan. It's a "Toronto's a smart city that everyone wants to come visit' plan. And if we don't deliver on it," adds May, "we'll have a city in decay."
The question now is whether the nearly 70 candidates who pulled out their Sharpies to sign the green pledge on Saturday will remember all that.