Ottawa has a duty to save Greenbelt

This article was written by David Crombie and was published in the Toronto Star on January 30, 2023.


It’s good news that federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault has signalled that he may step in to fight for Ontario’s Greenbelt.

His statements confirm that the federal government has both a responsibility and an obligation to protect the largest portion of the Greenbelt lands under attack. This is the 4,950-acre Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve (DRAP), adjacent to the Rouge National Park — Canada’s first national urban park and the only one that includes a mandate for regenerative agriculture.

Ottawa needs to engage now, and consider ways to protect the Rouge National Urban Park, by including the DRAP within the park boundaries. It can require an environmental review of any proposed development on the DRAP lands, and refuse to fund related infrastructure projects through federal programs.

DRAP represents nearly 70 per cent of the 7,400 acres the Ford government has stripped from the Greenbelt after repeated promises never to do so.

Public opposition has been wide, deep and constant. It includes the First Nations treaty holders in the area. It includes farmers concerned about the staggering loss of farmland in Ontario — an average of 319 acres per day.

Four federal issues

There is urgency for Ottawa to act. There are four issues of federal interest and jurisdiction to address.

First, the federal government has an obligation to protect the national park. Parks Canada’s analysis suggests there is a “probable risk of irreversible harm to wildlife, natural ecosystems and agricultural landscapes within the Rouge National Park” if DRAP is developed as proposed.

The farmland and ecological values of DRAP include abundant Class 1 farmland, lands classified as Natural Heritage that cover more than 41 per cent of the area and additional lands classified for potential ecological restoration and connectivity covering 17 per cent.

The Ford government’s planned destruction of DRAP would reduce the viability and functionality of the Rouge Park’s ecosystems and farmland.

It would threaten the climate resilience of the park, as well as regional wildlife and neighbouring communities.

The Greenbelt lands, along with the national park, contribute to the ecological connection between the Oak Ridges Moraine and Lake Ontario — the only intact, contiguous connection between the two in the entire Greater Golden Horseshoe.

Second, Species at Risk introductions in the DRAP by Parks Canada would be compromised, as would the viability of dozens of other species at risk.

Third, under the Federal Fisheries Act, the tributaries of Duffins Creek, Petticoat Creek and Rouge River would be impacted by the Ford government’s planned development — increasing siltation, pollution loading, impacting water flow volumes and temperature.

Fourth, the Ford government’s lack of consultation means it is already violating the Memorandum of Agreement between Ontario and Parks Canada Respecting the Establishment of Rouge National Urban Park, still in force. Under this agreement the province has a duty to consult with Parks Canada on any policy changes that may impact the park. Removing environmental protections, revoking protective legislation and pulling these lands out of the Greenbelt represent fundamental policy changes.

Correcting Untrue Claims

While the Ford government claims that the DRAP lands are needed for housing, this is blatantly untrue. There is plenty of land available for development that is already serviced or planned to be serviced. These other lands could be developed for housing much more quickly than the DRAP lands. In fact the Region of Durham has publicly contradicted the Ford government’s false claims.

It is in the federal government’s jurisdiction to take action. It is in the public interest that it moves quickly: protect the DRAP in perpetuity by making it part of the Rouge National Urban Park, consult with Indigenous communities and include them in the ongoing management of the lands.

New energy needed for clean power

This editorial was written and published by the Globe & Mail on January 30, 2023.

One of Canada’s best opportunities to build more clean power and to reduce emissions – and dare we say it, foster national unity – starts with solving a knotty problem that stretches back more than half a century. The idea makes economic sense, and it makes climate sense – it’s up to Ottawa, the provinces and Indigenous peoples to make sure decades of fraught politics do not once again derail the potential to generate a new bounty of clean hydro power.

The source of 2,250 megawatts is at Gull Island on the Churchill River in Labrador. It’s downstream from the massive 5,428 MW Churchill Falls and up the river from the recent financial sinkhole at the 824 MW Muskrat Falls.

The power from Gull Island can bolster the fortunes of Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and local Innu communities. New sources of clean power would help Ontario avoid an expected increased reliance on fossil fuels for power generation. A win-win-win deal is there for the making.

More than 80 per cent of electricity in Canada is clean. Ottawa wants to reach net-zero power by 2035. It is working on what it calls a national clean electricity standard. But power generation is overseen by the provinces and that means Canada effectively operates as 10 different countries when it comes to electricity. Hydro is bountiful in British Columbia, Manitoba, and Quebec – while neighbouring provinces such as Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario depend on fossil fuels. Hydro exports mostly go south, not east or west.

The lack of east-west co-operation has long been absurd. Provinces pursue their narrow self-interest and Canada as a whole loses. The challenge of climate heating presents a greater urgency than in the past, when profits were the main motivator. As large parts of the economy electrify, from transportation to home heating, Canada may need to double its power supply. Past discord cannot undermine future successes.

In the 1960s, Newfoundland wanted to develop Churchill Falls but geography dictated Quebec’s involvement. A transmission line across Quebec, to Ontario and the United States, would have made sense, but Ottawa didn’t intervene. Quebec secured favourable terms, but also took considerable financial risk to get Churchill Falls built. That bet paid off handsomely for Quebec. As of the late 2010s, the contract had made Quebec almost a cumulative $28-billion while Newfoundland received just $2-billion. The Innu were excluded; a new lawsuit from an Innu group against Hydro-Québec for damages was filed this month.

The lopsided power deal, which runs until 2041, has enraged generations of Newfoundlanders, but the promise of a do-over at Gull Island always had potential to soften the blow. Quebec and Newfoundland came close to a new deal in the late 1990s – including transmission lines – but Newfoundland then decided to instead go it alone. Gull Island was set aside and Newfoundland built Muskrat Falls, which became a financial disaster as the budget almost doubled.

Gull Island, because of its obvious promise, has been a perennial possibility. Quebec Premier François Legault in early 2020 talked about starting formal talks about the co-development of Gull Island. Mr. Legault has also said more power transmission between Quebec and Ontario would be “a nice opportunity to contribute to Canada’s success.”

Earlier this month, it was back to battling. Mr. Legault proposed building new generation capacity in Quebec to bolster the province’s negotiating position as the Churchill Falls contract ends. Newfoundland is likewise working on ideas to strengthen its hand. The Innu are still frustrated, from the history at Churchill Falls to a so-so deal they struck at Muskrat Falls. A true collaboration at Gull Island can assuage old wounds and answer future challenges, for both provinces, the Innu and Canada’s climate goals.

Hydro power in Quebec and Labrador can provide baseload electricity and serve as a battery to complement renewable power in those provinces and elsewhere. In Ontario, for instance, a reliably large volume of hydro power could clear the way for low-cost wind and solar. The same can happen between B.C. and Alberta, where B.C. is building the new Site C hydro dam while Alberta has become Canada’s solar and wind capital.

A solution at Gull Island to benefit all should have been figured out long ago. The next best time to remedy all those failings is right now.

Climate progress requires tough choices

This article was written by Sonia Baxendale, president and CEO of the Global Risk Institute, and was published in the Toronto Star on January 28, 2023.

As the World Economic Forum noted, there is a “gap between what is scientifically necessary and politically palatable” for climate change.

The World Economic Forum’s annual “Global Risks Report” highlights the immediate concern of the cost-of-living crisis and the longerterm risks associated with our failure to address climate change.

The WEF also listed cybercrime and cyber-insecurity as a growing risk and how the race to develop artificial intelligence and quantum computing could offer solutions.

These concerns have been on the Global Risk Institute’s (GRI) radar as we have been investigating how these risks will impact Canada’s financial services sector.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, and its continued reverberations through global energy and commodities markets, such as food, is one of three disruptions that impact Canadians’ cost-of-living challenges.

The second is the elevated tensions between the U.S. and China, which have stifled markets for critical technology components, and China’s “zero COVID” policies have strained corporate supply chains.

Lastly, the trend toward deglobalization could significantly affect Canada, which relies heavily on trade for its economic success.

Acentral theme of the Global Risk Institute’s annual summit last November was how the regionalization of trade and return of energy insecurity have created the need for risk mitigation strategies to protect Canadian businesses.

For example, Global business and economic analyst Rana Foroohar told GRI members that corporations and governments need to prioritize resiliency over efficiency. Prof. Janice Stein of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy highlighted a range of potential global scenarios including a shift toward regionalization and status-quo levels of trade and interconnectivity of economies.

It became clear that corporate Canada needs to prepare their operations for those scenarios as we rebuild the economy in the coming years.

The political expediency of addressing current economic and energy security issues may stall the action needed to address the longer-term risks of climate change. Climate action requires significant investments in renewable energy and other low-carbon infrastructure, new research and development, and changes to consumption patterns and lifestyles of Canadians.

These investments can be difficult to advance in times of economic hardship with governments focused on the immediate needs of Canadians.

As the WEF noted, there is a “gap between what is scientifically necessary and politically palatable.”

In light of current global disruptions, three potential futures for climate change and global energy with implications for Canada and its financial sector could be considered.

First, a singular focus on preserving fossil fuel production to ensure the security of domestic energy supply at the expense of net-zero commitments. Second, a bridge approach that temporarily focuses on the further development of nonrenewables to meet acute energy needs, while hastening progress on clean energy adoption over the longer term to achieve carbon neutral targets. And third, a green acceleration to a low-carbon future with no new fossil fuel investments. Businesses must have plans in place to be resilient and pivot their operations to succeed across these potential futures.

Despite the economic challenges, Canadian businesses have an opportunity for a more sustainable future. A shift toward renewable energy, green infrastructure and sustainable consumption could curb the long-term, worst effects of climate change and provide a much-needed boost to the economy.

Short-sighted decisions in the face of economic hardship could put the brakes on progress and make it even harder to recover in the long run. This crucial moment in history is a call to action, not just for governments and corporations, but for individuals to make tough choices that can steer the world towards a more sustainable future for generations to come.

Ford tells Ottawa to back off

Federal environment minister clarifies remarks about intervening in plan

This article was written by Robert Benzie and Noor Javed, and was published in the Toronto Star on January 28, 2023.

Several hundred rally in front of the downtown Sheraton hotel on Monday in opposition to the Ontario government’s plan to develop part of the Greenbelt.

Premier Doug Ford says he is “really disappointed” the federal environment minister would muse about potentially intervening with the province’s plans to build housing on Greenbelt land.

“This is our jurisdiction,” Ford told reporters Friday in Brampton.

His comments came after federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault was quoted as saying he has “a legislative obligation to intervene” if species-at-risk are threatened by any Greenbelt development.

“I’m really disappointed when I hear that, when we work collaboratively,” the premier said.

Guilbeault’s office on Friday moved to clarify what he had meant Thursday.

“In his remarks yesterday, the minister referred to some of the legal processes that are in place to protect nature,” said Oliver Anderson, his director of communications.

“In due course, all projects may be considered for review by the independent impact assessment agency. No specific projects have yet been proposed,” Anderson said.

“As the minister has always maintained, we can achieve the best results if we work together. Our government looks forward to continued collaboration with counterparts in Ontario on a range of files, like developing cleaner energy in a low-carbon economy, the protection of nature and fighting climate change,” he said.

Ford is opening up 7,400 acres of the two-million acre Greenbelt in exchange for adding 9,400 acres of protected land elsewhere in order to address Ontario’s housing crunch.

But an investigation by the Toronto Star and the Narwhal found eight of the 15 parcels of the Greenbelt being opened up to developers were purchased after his Progressive Conservatives were elected in 2018.

That has triggered probes by both integrity commissioner J. David Wake and auditor general Bonnie Lysyk after opposition complaints about the land swap.

The premier bristled at the suggestion that anything untoward happened.

“Now, let me make it very clear, there’s nothing going on there outside of building homes,” he said.

Complaining of “a little bit of a double standard,” Ford noted his government is not the first to make changes to the protected lands of Greenbelt, which has existed since 2005.

“I never hear anyone talk about the Liberals that changed the Greenbelt17 times … not a peep, not a word. And there was no housing crisis back there. We’re doing it for one reason. We want to build homes.”

Ford pointed out 50,000 homes will be built on the 15 parcels of Greater Toronto Area land being slated for development and that each is adjacent to fully serviced land.

“So there’s a community on one side of the road; the other side of the road, there’s an empty field, all the service things being there. So naturally, you’re going to build on that open field. Simple as that,” he said.

“But make no mistake about it. We’re building homes on those pieces of property as sure as I’m standing here today.”

A diminishing return

Writer Simon Akam revisits Chandolin, Switzerland, and finds enough snow but worries the hills are threatened by climate change

This article was written by Simon Akam and was published in the Globe & Mail on January 28, 2023.

The old village in Chandolin, Switzerland, used to feature a cluster of chalets built from larch and arolla pine, but nowadays there is more modern construction. The traditionally deeply Catholic settlement has an elevation just shy of 2000 metres, making it more insulated from a changing climate.

There was no road to Chandolin until the late 1950s. Before that, access to the Swiss village was by mule. East of the church, a post-Baroque structure built in the 1880s, lies the vieux village, the old village, a cluster of chalets built from larch and arolla pine, granaries on stilts to discourage rodents, and the four banal, the communal oven where villagers baked a hard bread from rye, wheat and potatoes. To the west lies the Grand Hotel, built in 1896 as if early proof-of-concept for a Wes Anderson movie.

Today, there is more modern construction beyond: chalets and a few apartment blocks metastasized until 2012, when, with much gnashing of teeth, Switzerland voted to ban second homes. In between, if you look carefully, are visual tells of the curiosities of this society. There are recycling protocols of Byzantine complexity, and below one building, I found a 20-centimetre thick concrete door on heavy hinges – the state-mandated bunker.

I came here, or, more precisely, back here, to properly learn ski mountaineering, after I nearly died attempting it on a peak in Russia in 2017. Ski mountaineering is really about skiing uphill. But I’ve learned that the first skill to master, in particular for a big event like the race I hope to complete next year, is how to ski downhill properly, potentially on very steep ground, with a rucksack, in all conditions.

In large resorts in the Alps there are two-month off-the-shelf training programs, but they did not appeal to me. Many aim to produce instructors, which I had no desire to become. Most are anglophone. I wanted complete linguistic immersion.

Instead, I returned to Chandolin, where I once stayed as a child. When I was growing up in Cambridge in southern England, my parents had an evangelical belief in the character-forming properties of European stints abroad. At 11, in 1996, I spent Christmas and New Years here with a Swiss family, whom my parents knew from postgraduate studies in the United States. I had already learned to ski in a purpose-built resort in France, but this was a completely different experience. I remember skiing, cross-country and downhill, but also raclette cheese, left to soften in front of a fire, sledding, night mass at church.

I also remember being deeply homesick, but in retrospect my memories are overwhelmingly positive. I wonder if the stay left a lasting impression on me because it coincided with the beginning of the end of childhood. My first clear memories of pop music are from that year ( Un-break My Heart is a standout). It was also the first time I properly kept a diary, another habit that lingered into adulthood. “The village is very high (2,000 m),” I wrote. “This also means the air is a bit thin for comfort.”

Yet, if my memories of 26 years ago are immaculately preserved, they also show what has changed. When I came as a child to Chandolin, it was bitterly cold (by European standards); -15 C some days on the mountain. From old photographs I see the landscape was fully snow covered, down to the lower reaches of the Val d’Anniviers.

Back then no one assumed it would be any other way, because of the village’s elevation. My childhood statement that it sits at 2,000 metres is not exactly accurate. Parsing contours on the Swiss topographic maps, I put the church, the centre of gravity of this traditionally deeply Catholic settlement, at between 1,910 metres and 1,920 metres. Though, in fairness to my preteen self, there are postcards too that claim that Chandolin lies at 2,000 metres.

In the 1990s, that elevation – which supposedly made Chandolin the highest village in Frenchspeaking Switzerland – was considered enough to ensure reliable snow-cover from before Christmas to at least Easter. By contrast, when I drove in from France on Jan. 7 of this year to deliver my skis, there was little snow here, just sad browning banks by the roadside. “J’espère que tu trouveras un peu de neige à Chandolin pour pratiquer le ski malgré les conditions météorologiques extravagances de cette année,” the mother of my old host family e-mailed. I hope you find some snow in Chandolin to practise skiing despite the extravagant weather conditions this year. The extravaganza she referred to occurred as the new year was ushered in, when parts of Switzerland recorded a temperature above 20 C, a record for the time of year.

Just as the stories of climatic doom hit the press, however, snow arrived. My skis delivered, I had taken my rental car back to Chamonix, and returned to Chandolin first by train, then by bus, in thickening storms. Heavy snow continued for much of the week. Last weekend I climbed the Illhorn, the 2,717metre peak above the village, and it was again about -15 C on top. But what about next winter, or winters to come in 20 or 30 years? “The extinction of snow worries and hurts many,” the Neue Zurcher Zeitung, the major German-language Swiss paper, reported on Jan. 8. “Will the Swiss soul be able to cope?”

It is not just culture. Snow, also known as or blanc, white gold, is business. Tourism, particularly winter tourism, along with hydropower, dragged these high alpine communities out of grinding poverty. That process was not without controversy. The vote banning second homes was the result of a campaign by veteran Swiss environmentalist Franz Weber. A farmer in this valley once sprayed Weber with liquid manure in protest of his advocacy to “protect” the area from development. (“I prefer manure to concrete,” Weber quipped afterward.)

Even in the few weeks I have spent here, I have sensed an unresolved tension that goes back a century. This fault-line lies between those who covet this place for its beauty and isolation and who want it to remain as undeveloped as possible, and those for whom tourism was a way – the only way even – out of the brutalities of high-altitude subsistence agriculture. The statistics are telling. In Vernamiège for instance, a community a little to the west of here, infant mortality fell from 122.2 per 1,000 between 1915 and 1925 to 36 per 1,000 30 years later. Today I both understand why that farmer once targeted Weber with dung, and rejoice that this valley did limit its “development.”

Global warming, though, is a whole other matter. In Chandolin, at give-or-take 2,000 metres, they are more insulated from a changing climate. And no one suggests Swiss children will start dying again in droves. But if it stops snowing, they will face economic crisis, whether or not they permit second homes.

Simon Akam is a British journalist and author. His first book, The Changing of the Guard – The British Army since 9/11, published in 2021, was a Times Literary Supplement book of the year and won the Templer First Book Prize. Simon can be found at @simonakam on Twitter, @simon.akam on Instagram.

Greenbelt is Ontario’s jurisdiction, Ford says

Federal Environment Minister had warned Ottawa could use its powers to intervene to protect at-risk species

This article was written by Jeff Gray and was published in the Globe & Mail on January 28, 2023.

Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault says Ontario’s removal of land from the Greenbelt – 800,000 hectares of farmland and countryside that arcs around the Greater Toronto Area – contradicts efforts to prepare for climate change.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he is disappointed with comments from federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, who said Ottawa could try to block development that his province is set to allow on land it removed from its protected Greenbelt.

“I’m really disappointed when I hear that, when we work collaboratively,” Mr. Ford told reporters Friday. “This is our jurisdiction. We have 300,000 more people every year coming to our province. … I just want to build homes, because the next question you’re going to say, you know, ‘ Where are we going to put these people?’”

Mr. Guilbeault said Thursday that Ontario’s removal of 3,000 hectares from the Greenbelt – 800,000 hectares of farmland and countryside that arcs around the Greater Toronto Area – “flies in the face” of efforts to prepare for climate change. (Ontario is compensating for the removals by adding 3,800 hectares elsewhere to the protected area.)

The Environment Minister warned he could use federal powers to protect at-risk species if future proposed developments on the former Greenbelt lands were shown to harm their habitats, as his government did in the case of a subdivision outside Montreal.

“You can imagine that if similar projects were to be proposed on lands that were part of the Greenbelt, then I have a legislative obligation to intervene,” Mr. Guilbeault said, according to the online environmental publication, The Narwhal.

He also mentioned Ottawa’s Impact Assessment Act, which is already being used to scrutinize Mr. Ford’s Highway 413, a proposed expressway that would carve through Greenbelt land. The minister said Ottawa “will be looking at the potential use of federal tools to stop some of these projects.”

The back-and-forth has taken place just days before a Feb. 7 meeting between Canada’s premiers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to hash out a health care funding deal.

Kaitlin Power, a spokesperson for Mr. Guilbeault, said in a statement Thursday that the federal government “looks forward to continued collaboration with counterparts in Ontario” on environmental issues. The Environment Minister would not repeat his comments about potentially blocking projects on former Greenbelt lands outside a caucus meeting Friday in Ottawa.

It’s not the first time Mr. Guilbeault has weighed on Mr. Ford’s recent policies. In December, he suggested that Ontario could allow homes on floodplains and that Ottawa would not compensate homeowners in the event of flooding. Parks Canada has also said the opening of Greenbelt lands east of Toronto could harm nearby Rouge National Urban Park.

Opposition critics and environmentalists say Greenbelt land isn’t needed to address the housing crisis, even with the increasing immigration numbers often cited by Mr. Ford. They say enough land has already been earmarked to accommodate three decades of population growth. Ontario also recently forced municipalities to designate thousands of hectares of additional non-Greenbelt farmland for housing.

The Progressive Conservative government says its Greenbelt changes will result in 50,000 new homes, as it seeks to facilitate the construction of 1.5 million homes over the next decade. But even the province’s handpicked industry advisory panel concluded last year that building on the Greenbelt was unnecessary.

On Friday, Mr. Ford suggested that his plan – a reversal of his promises not to touch the Greenbelt – was being criticized unfairly, as the previous Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne took land out of the protected area 17 times.

However, those changes in 2017 followed the rejection of more than 650 requests from developers and municipalities for carveouts during a public review of the Greenbelt, and consisted mostly of minor boundary adjustments that only removed 148 hectares. Environmentalists did raise concerns about some of the Liberal measures at the time, but they are dwarfed by the current government’s removals – drawn up away from public view.

Under Ms. Wynne, Ontario had also added another 10,000 hectares to the Greenbelt, which the Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty created in 2005.

The Globe and Mail and other news outlets have reported that some of the land taken out of the Greenbelt changed hands as recently as September, 2022. Both Mr. Ford and his Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, have said they did not tip developers off before the decision was announced in November. But Ontario’s Auditor-General and its Integrity Commissioner have since launched investigations. The Ontario Provincial Police have said they are also considering launching an investigation.

Ahead of the 2018 provincial election campaign, Mr. Ford was forced to backtrack after the Liberals unearthed video of him promising to hand over a “big chunk” of the Greenbelt to developers. After initially promising to replace any removed land only to face more backlash, he vowed not to touch the protected area at all.

But this did not stop his newly elected government from proposing a bill, just months later, that would have allowed municipalities to request exemptions from Greenbelt protections. The government scrapped the legislation in 2019 after an outcry, and Mr. Ford and Mr. Clark repeated their pledges not to touch the protected area.


Canada’s other housing crisis

This article was written by Kathry Blaze Baum and Tu Thanh Ha, and was published in the Globe & Mail on January 28, 2023.

Canada’s building codes are out of date, inconsistent and ill-prepared for climate change

The afternoon of July 15, 2021, Natalie Harris dropped by her ex-husband’s house in Barrie, Ont., to see the teenaged son they coparent and visit the family dogs. Soon after she arrived, her former spouse, Jon Hunwicks, called. He was at Costco and had just seen a wind gust hurl a garbage can into a car, smashing the windshield. “Take the dogs and get to the basement,” he said.

Not a minute after Ms. Harris and her son went underground, the house started shaking. Heaps of dust fell on them as the structure above was ripped apart. The wind was so loud they couldn’t hear each other’s screams. Within seconds, all was quiet.

Ms. Harris, her breath heavy with adrenalin, climbed the stairs to the main floor. She looked up and saw the sky where the roof used to be. Rain poured down on her and drenched pieces of pink insulation, splintered lumber, overturned furniture and other wind-strewn debris.

“Oh my god!” she yelled to her son, still below. “The roof is gone.”

Ms. Harris said it’s “by the grace of the universe” that the tornado – with wind speeds up to 210 kilometres an hour – didn’t kill anyone. However, the twister left dozens of homes uninhabitable; they weren’t built to withstand its force.

Nor are the homes on the East Coast prepared for more frequent hurricanes, or those on the West Coast for severe heat waves and wildfires. And homes across the country are ill-prepared for destructive flooding.

As extreme weather events are increasing, the way the places in which we live, work and play are designed and built becomes more important than ever. And building codes, which set minimum standards for structural protection, are a tool that, if they took climate change into account, could save lives and property.

To understand how well building codes across the country protect us, The Globe and Mail interviewed dozens of engineers, architects, builders, researchers, meteorologists, inspectors and government officials, as well as insurance and credit-rating industries stakeholders.

Reporters pored over thousands of pages of documents, and searched through nearly 1,600 proposals submitted to national code-makers going back 15 years, to unearth efforts to improve the resilience of buildings – as well as the resistance to do so.

The Globe’s months-long examination reveals that Canada’s building-code regulations are inadequate to stand up to our new climate reality and are largely based on outdated or poor-quality data that do not consider current or future climate change. The average annual total precipitation amounts referenced in the most recent edition, for instance, rely on observations from 1961 to 1990.

The Globe also found that the independent panels that develop the National Building Code first received proposals a decade ago to incorporate climate resiliency into design and construction requirements. However, such adaptation measures have not been a priority, with provinces and territories focusing first on energy efficiency.

Although climate adaptation has started to be addressed in policy, that still hasn’t translated to specific technical priorities for the 2025 national code – and it’s likely we won’t see resilience measures put in place until the 2030 version. This means houses we’re constructing now won’t be built to better withstand the severe weather events that we know are increasing across the country, setting us up for more destruction, more lives in peril and higher insurable losses.

The Globe’s analysis of the national code focused on structures that are three storeys or less and that occupy an area not exceeding 600-square-metres. Known as Part 9 buildings in the code, these include properties that house businesses, offices and lowhazard industrial sites. And, of course, they include most people’s homes.

Unlike larger buildings, those in the Part 9 category don’t require the design services or sign-off of a professional engineer. But when natural disasters strike, they account for significant insured losses.

Despite the building code’s crucial role in public safety, several people interviewed for this story described how the slow and fragmented process of updating it has made us vulnerable.

“One of the issues with codes and standards is that they are mere minimums,” said climate-risk consultant David Lapp, a former manager for Engineers Canada. “It’s quite a process to get these changes updated. … We’re seeing these events happening that are more frequent and intense, and codes and standards have difficulty keeping up.”

They emphasized also that the national codemaking process functions like a “black box,” in which little information trickles down to the person or group that submitted a proposed change.

The federal government is taking steps to address gaps in the data and problems with the code-development system, but critics say the effort is too little, too late, and doesn’t jibe with Ottawa’s pledges on climate change.

The stakes are only going to get higher. According to Catastrophe Indices and Quantification Inc., a consultancy that analyzes data from meteorological and human-made disasters, insured damage from severe weather events in Canada have gone from an average of $400-million a year in the early 2000s to an average of roughly $2-billion in recent years.

Gregory Kopp, the lead researcher with Western University’s Northern Tornadoes Project, was at the scene in the aftermath of 2021’s twister in Barrie to conduct a survey of the damages and determine the intensity of the tornado. He saw the torn pink insulation amid the shattered bricks, ripped sidings and destroyed roofs.

It’s nonsensical, he said, to codify energy efficiency but then punt on climate-resilience measures that keep those energy-efficient homes intact. “If it ends up in a landfill,” he said, “it’s a no-win situation.”

How a building is constructed depends very much on where, exactly, it’s located.

Canada doesn’t have a binding federal building code. Instead, every five years or so, the government publishes the National Building Code, a model code that provinces and territories can choose to adopt in full or with amendments. Municipalities can also pass building bylaws. The result is a patchwork of regulations and a slow-moving system rife with bottlenecks. Some jurisdictions are working off of a decade-old – or even decades-old – national code.

Today’s edition of the national code is more than 1,500 pages and references hundreds of standards. It covers the construction of new residential, commercial, institutional and industrial buildings, as well as substantial alterations to existing ones.

Historically, the code has been developed by the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes – an independent, volunteer body comprised of industry practitioners, building users and operators, regulators and construction technology experts. The commission received input and direction from a provincial and territorial advisory committee.

The national code-change process is housed within the National Research Council (NRC), an agency under the federal Innovation department. The governance structure was overhauled last fall, but the NRC in the past appointed stakeholders to the commission. It supplied financial, administrative and technical support to the commission and its standing committees.

The NRC has published several studies acknowledging problems with the code-development system. The studies found that stakeholders had trouble communicating with each other, in turn eroding transparency and trust, and that people from the field of climate change were under-represented on the codes commission and weren’t being heard. Concerns had been raised as early as 2016. Julie Gelfand, a watchdog with the Office of the Auditor-General of Canada, warned that the NRC had failed to incorporate climate-change trends into the design requirements of the code.

“Homes and other buildings built to withstand our current climate may not be strong enough to withstand climates in the decades to come,” Ms. Gelfand, who was commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, wrote in that audit.

The quality of the climate data is important because it dictates the design requirements for various aspects of a building, including those related to drainage, cladding, roofing, heating and ventilation. In its response at the time, the NRC agreed and said it would “begin working on climate change adaptation by July, 2016, for the 2015-2020 code cycle, with completion anticipated by 2020.”

The NRC followed up by launching the ClimateResilient Buildings and Core Public Infrastructure Initiative, which acknowledged that the use of historical climate data has “resulted in assets that have not been designed to withstand the extreme weather events we are currently experiencing.”

The government developed future-looking climatic design data, including related to temperature, precipitation and wind. The data will be submitted for potential inclusion in the 2025 edition of the national code.

However, there’s typically a lag between the stated year of a code edition and the actual time it’s published. And, because provinces and territories have only committed to adopting the 2025 national model code within 18 months, it could be nearly 2030 before construction requirements rely on the new data.

“We have known about climate change for decades now, and yet our code still doesn’t consider future climate,” said Keith Porter, chief engineer with the insurance-industry-backed Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR). “It’s pretty slow. It’s at least a decade behind what we should have – and what we could have – been doing.”

Despite more attention being placed on climatechange resiliency, it still hasn’t been deemed a primary concern. In an Oct. 4, 2021, letter to the chair of the commission on building codes, the provincial and territorial advisory committee laid out its recommended priorities for the code cycle that will result in the 2025 edition.

The No. 1 priority was alterations to existing buildings for energy efficiency, followed by accessibility and, thirdly, fire and life safety topics. Finalizing a policy paper on climate-change mitigation and adaptation – a process that began about five years ago – came in as the fourth priority. (The federal government did not have a role in developing the priorities.)

Although the national code isn’t binding, it’s significant because other tiers of government adopt it in its entirety or with specific amendments. It’s the foundation for codes across the country.

Most provinces and territories are working off of the 2015 national code, and are in the midst of adopting some version of the 2020 edition. Manitoba, though, is still using the 2010 code, with some changes. The province announced in October that it had decided to effectively skip the 2015 edition in favour of going straight to the 2020 version, which wasn’t actually released by the NRC until March of 2022.

Some provinces, such as Saskatchewan, adopt the national code outright. Others, such as Ontario or British Columbia, have their own codes, based on the national one with some tweaks. The codes in those two provinces are considered to be more advanced when it comes to addressing climate change, but like the federal model, the emphasis has been on energy efficiency.

Quebec says its code is similar to the federal document, but there’s a key twist: It doesn’t apply to residential buildings of fewer than three floors or nine units. Those are left to municipalities, placing smaller dwellings under a hodgepodge of local regulations.

A survey of 188 Quebec municipalities conducted last spring by APCHQ, the province’s homebuilders association, found that 10 municipalities had their own building bylaws, while others relied variously on national code editions from 1985 to 2020. Another 74 municipalities, or 39 per cent of respondents, had no construction bylaws or codes at all.

Indigenous communities are also a patchwork. First Nations are under federal jurisdiction, so provincial and territorial codes don’t automatically apply to them. At the same time, the national code has no legal status unless formally adopted by a local authority.

It’s left to individual communities to ratify a transfer of responsibility for land management from Ottawa and then adopt and enforce their own rules.

In B.C., for instance, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc has a housing policy that follows the province’s code. Near Montreal, Mohawks of Kahnawake use standards that combine parts of the national and Quebec codes. In Ontario, Chippewas of Rama First Nation uses the national code – except for their casino, where whichever of “the more stringent” provisions of the national or Ontario codes apply.

Others, however, have no such bylaws. A 2021 Ontario chief coroner report on fire deaths in First Nations said they face “jurisdictional neglect” when it comes to building codes. “The lack of uniformity across the province, chronic underfunding and a lack of support for enforcement mechanisms has left many communities with homes in disrepair,” the report said.

Rebuilding a town from a blank slate might seem like an opportunity to incorporate more stringent construction standards to ward against natural disasters. But as the B.C. town of Lytton illustrates, even the most affected people may balk at the idea of adaptation at all costs.

On June 30, 2021, during a record heat wave, a wildfire amplified by high winds destroyed most of Lytton, forcing people to flee as smoke, ash and embers descended on the town.

Their houses reduced to charred bricks and scorched metal, most Lytton residents remain scattered in neighbouring municipalities and recently marked their second holiday season away from their hometown.

After the fire, Lytton adopted Bylaw 711, an ordinance that made it the first Canadian community with stricter guidelines to protect against the spread of wildfires. The decision underscored the reality that, while the national code is a guide, specific jurisdictions can choose to move more quickly on climate resilience.

But the new rules in Lytton faced resistance from many locals, and critics of the bylaw took office following the September municipal election, including Denise O’Connor, the new mayor.

Although the bylaw is still in place, Ms. O’Connor and all four councillors have voiced concerns that it will hinder an already drawn-out reconstruction and have talked about scaling down its scope.

Clearing the contaminated ground has to be done carefully because Lytton sits within the territory of Nlaka’pamux First Nations and the soil must be checked for archeological artifacts. Residential construction may not begin until June.

That date would coincide with the expiry, after two years, of the insurance coverage for additional living expenses that residents are receiving while waiting to rebuild their homes.

Nonie McCann, one of the new councillors, said in an interview that the delays and uncertainty have stoked concerns that the bylaw could impede the rebuilding even more. “None of us is married to that bylaw,” she said.

Bylaw 711 was proposed under the previous mayor, Jan Polderman. A member of the former council reached out to the ICLR – the insurance-industry-backed institute – to help design the bylaw, which it did with help from an NRC paper, the National Guide for Wildland-Urban Interface Fires.

The bylaw features measures to shield houses from wind-carried embers through the use of noncombustible materials for porches and sidings, covering gutters and vents with mesh, and requiring tempered glass panes for exterior doors.

The bylaw also dictates that vegetation be trimmed and that firewood stacks, propane tanks and recreational vehicles be kept at a distance from homes.

“If an RV were to burn, that is a very large source of high-intensity heat. … That’s one of the mechanisms [behind] how fire spreads from one structure to another,” wildfire expert Alan Westhaver told council last November.

The fireproofing would add an average of $5,000 to a house’s price tag. The ICLR noted that Ottawa pledged $6-million to help rebuild Lytton to fire-resistant standards and said it would lobby for more aid if that is not enough.

But money aside, many residents say it’s hard to source the right materials to rebuild or find modular homes meeting the new requirements.

At a Dec. 14 meeting, Lytton council instructed municipal staff to review and make recommenda

tions on the parts of the bylaw dealing with the placement of propane tanks, firewood and RVs. During the debate, councillors suggested those restrictions should be left to the discretion of individual homeowners. Non-combustible construction materials are still mandatory, though Ms. McCann said council could consider removing that condition too if it becomes too onerous.

Beyond Lytton, cost is bound to be a source of opposition in locations considering resilience measures, especially in places experiencing an affordable housing crisis. Even less expensive measures – for example, installing hurricane straps to protect roofs or backwater valves to reduce basement flooding – are met with hesitation by homeowners and some housebuilders. But there are changes afoot on a number of fronts.

The 2021 Barrie tornado wasn’t the city’s first, nor will it be its last. In 1985, a twister tore through the region, killing 12 people and causing $150-million in damages, more than the estimated $100-million in insured damages in 2021. Studies have shown that a warming planet lends itself to the sort of atmospheric conditions that cause destructive tornadoes, and, as a result, peak tornado season in Southern Ontario is now more likely to extend into fall.

In the wake of the 2021 twister, Ms. Harris, at the time a Barrie city councillor, sponsored a motion proposing that Ontario change its building code to better withstand extreme wind loads. Currently, Ontario’s code aligns with the national model in requiring three three-inch nails in each roof-to-wall connection. Known as toe nails, they help prevent the roof from lifting during high-wind events, but they aren’t as effective on their own when it comes to tornadoes of a certain force.

The City of Barrie was among those that jointly submitted a code-change request to the province last year recommending the use of hurricane straps to better connect the roof to the walls and the walls to the foundation.

The use of these hurricane fasteners – palm-sized steel brackets – would cost an estimated few hundred dollars per home. The proposal contained several other wind-impact measures, including some related to the sheathing that adds stability to a building, and the anchor bolts used to connect structural elements to concrete. It went out for public consultations and is currently under consideration for possible inclusion in the next edition of the provincial code, which is slated to be in effect next year.

The province said it has also shared the proposal with the NRC for consideration to be added to the national code.

In the meantime, some builders and homeowners are voluntarily installing fasteners such as hurricane straps or six-inch screws in addition to toe nails.

When Ms. Harris’s ex-husband rebuilt his house, from the foundation up, he did so with hurricane straps.

“We feel much safer,” Ms. Harris said. “Let’s be real, it’s not like this isn’t never going to happen again.”

As in Barrie, the City of Calgary is also advocating for changes to the national code.

In the wake of the 2020 hailstorm that caused $1.4-billion in insured damages to tens of thousands of homes and vehicles – one of the costliest storms in Canadian history – Calgary is seeking enhanced roofing requirements, including asphalt shingles that are more resistant to hailstones. A provincial working group is studying the idea, with the aim of an eventual code-change request.

A separate code-change request at the national level related to wind load, championed by the Canadian Wood Council and others, has made it to the stage of public review. That proposal, which includes bracing walls with structural sheathing to resist horizontal wind load and seismic forces, is expected to go out for public consultation in February.

Proposals at the national level typically take anywhere from 18 months to more than five years to make their way through the system. In the past decade, at least six national code-change requests aimed at addressing durability during severe weather events – specifically related to extreme winds and flooding – were either rejected or have stalled somewhere along the decision-making process.

Records of the committees reviewing those requests indicate that the panels weren’t convinced that there was a pressing problem, or felt that there weren’t enough data. One request for backup power for sump pumps was deemed to be outside the scope of the national code system. In other cases, the proposal was referred to a subcommittee and made no further progress.

One climate-related code-change request submitted by the ICLR in 2013, for example, said using toe nails wasn’t enough to hold down roofs under high wind pressure and there was a need for “connectors that will resist” – in other words, hurricane straps.

When the federal government released its national adaptation strategy in November, it chose to hold its launch event in Prince Edward Island. Last fall, houses there and in other Atlantic provinces were knocked from their foundations by the powerful storm surge of Hurricane Fiona. Causing an estimated $660-million in insured damages, Fiona is the costliest extreme weather event ever recorded in Atlantic Canada.

“We need to act now,” federal Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said when announcing the strategy. “In order to make sure we do it right, we’re building smarter and using climate data better.”

The section of the government’s strategy that deals with code changes and resilience, however, doesn’t explicitly mention houses and small residential buildings. The government is in the early stages of determining whether the strategy will cover both private residences and public infrastructure. And while Ottawa committed to publishing a netzero emissions building code by the end of 2024, this addresses the need to mitigate climate change, not adapt to it.

Given that some amount of climate change is already baked into Canada’s present and future, no matter what the international community does next to reduce emissions, adaptation is key; some of the places that have already suffered from extreme weather might be struck again.

In Lytton, a forestry consulting company that the town retained to create a wildfire protection plan, B.A. Blackwell & Associates Ltd., warned in its report that the community remains vulnerable. “It is not ‘if’ another wildfire will threaten Lytton, but it is ‘when,’ ” it said.

Large swaths of the country are at risk for extreme heat – the silent killer in climate change’s arsenal. According to a report from the University of Waterloo’s Intact Centre on Climate Change, low-lying areas from the West Coast to the Rockies, the southern Prairies and north of Lake Erie in Ontario through Quebec’s St. Lawrence River Valley are particularly vulnerable.

And while our scientific understanding of the impact of warming global temperatures on tornadoes is evolving, a study by Western University’s Northern Tornadoes Project found that the number of verified tornadoes in Ontario has steadily increased since 1875.

In an e-mail, the NRC highlighted the work the government has done in recent years to address concerns with the building code, including working with the Canadian Standards Association to improve standards related to building durability, publishing guides on what people can do voluntarily to protect from wildfires and flooding, and developing future-looking design direction based on different climate-change scenarios.

“This was groundbreaking research, and was the first time in the world that design values that took into consideration the impacts of climate change were developed for buildings and bridges,” the federal agency said of the work, which was done by a research group within Environment and Climate Change Canada, in collaboration with the University of Victoria’s Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium. “The NRC is sharing these methods internationally to inform similar efforts in the United States and Australia.”

The NRC also recently overhauled the national code-making governance model. The revamped structure was years in the making, driven primarily by a desire among the provinces, territories and industry to harmonize codes across the country and reduce interjurisdictional trade barriers. It is also meant to create a more “responsive” and “agile” codes-development system, an NRC spokesperson said in an e-mail.

The new structure redefines the NRC’s role – one of decision-maker at the table, rather than simply a publisher and source of support for the independent commission. Deputy ministers from the federal, provincial and territorial governments will also have more power. Industry and other stakeholders will have their say through an advisory council and public consultations.

Some within industry said the new structure could become politicized, given the increased decision-making powers of the federal, provincial and territorial governments. Adam Auer, president and CEO of the Cement Association of Canada, said he’s concerned that decisions will still be made “inside a black box, within government” and that the revamped structure could actually be more cumbersome than its previous iteration. “We’re monitoring to see whether or not the voice we used to have is preserved under this new model,” he said, adding that the association is supportive of measures to reduce the construction industry’s carbon footprint and boost resilience.

However, it’s widely viewed as a positive that the new governance model aims to harmonize codes across the country, making things easier and more cost-effective for manufacturers and builders who operate nationally. In addition, the consistency across jurisdictions will create a more even playing field when it comes to public safety.

“All Canadians should be equally safe no matter where they live,” said Frank Lohmann, the director of building science with the Canadian Home Builders’ Association.

Mr. Lohmann, who spent more than two decades with the NRC working on national codes, said the association supports market-driven resilience measures but wants to see affordability considered every step of the way.

Doug Tarry is one homebuilder who exemplifies the growing willingness to produce houses that are better adapted to extreme weather. In Southern Ontario locations, for example, his builders have installed hurricane straps or six-inch screws. While he advocates against costly, overly complicated engineered solutions, he’s keen to “go after the lowhanging fruit” of climate-resilience measures.

“Some things just aren’t that hard and just aren’t that much more expensive,” said Mr. Tarry, whose company, Doug Tarry Homes, is based in St. Thomas, Ont. “Sometimes I’ll get asked, ‘Why do you bother doing that? We don’t have tornadoes here in St. Thomas. And I say, ‘Well, we’ve been really lucky.”

Imperial Oil says it is going ahead with a $720-million renewable diesel fuel project at its Strathcona refinery.

New Alberta facility will create diesel-like fuel out of locally sourced vegetable oils

This article was written by Amanda Stephenson and was published in the Toronto Star on January 27, 2023.

Imperial Oil Ltd. is going ahead with a $720-million project to build a renewable diesel facility at its Strathcona refinery near Edmonton.

The project, first announced in August 2021, is expected to produce 20,000 barrels per day of renewable diesel once it is complete. That will make it the largest facility of its kind in Canada, upon its expected completion in 2025, and one of the largest renewable diesel complexes in North America.

“We would consider ourselves world-class. When you look around the world, there are not many (renewable diesel) plants at 20,000 barrels per day or higher,” said Jon Wetmore, Imperial’s vice-president for downstream, in an interview Thursday.

Renewable diesel is the term given to a biomass-based fuel that is chemically equivalent to petroleum diesel. This means it can be transported directly in petroleum pipelines or sold at retail stations without any infrastructure modifications or fuel blending.

Renewable diesel can be made from vegetable oil, animal fats, used cooking oil or even algae. In Imperial’s case, the Strathcona refinery facility will use locally sourced vegetable oils — such as canola, soybean and sunflower.

Imperial will also be partnering with Pennsylvania-based Air Products — which is building a hydrogen facility near Edmonton — to supply hydrogen via pipeline to the Strathcona refinery. The low-carbon hydrogen will also be used in the production of the renewable diesel.

As a nonfossil fuel-based product, the renewable diesel produced at the Imperial facility is expected to reduce annual greenhouse emissions by about three million tonnes compared to conventional fuels, the company said.

A significant portion of the production from the Strathcona renewable diesel facility will be sent to British Columbia to support the province’s plan to lower carbon emissions, and the company also plans to use renewable diesel in its own operations as part of its emission reduction plans.

The facility’s construction will create about 600 direct construction jobs, Imperial said.

“A big day for Alberta, for Canada, and above all for workers with this new step forward from Imperial Oil,” federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said on Twitter. “This investment will create and support jobs, lower emissions, and help ensure Canada’s economic prosperity.”

The news was also praised by clean energy think tank the Pembina Institute, which called it a “positive announcement.”

Pembina, as well as other environmental organizations, has been critical of the Canadian oilsands industry over the last year for what the think tank believes is the industry’s failure to move quickly on decarbonization plans during a period of high commodity prices and record profits for oil companies.

Imperial, for example, reported its 2022 third-quarter profit more than doubled compared with a year ago, totalling $2.03 billion — an impressive figure that’s been used as ammunition by critics who believe the company, and others like it, can afford to invest more into environmental initiatives.

Imperial is also a member of the Pathways Alliance, a consortium of oil and gas companies that have committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from operations by 2050.

Among that group’s proposals is a massive carbon capture and storage network in northern Alberta, though a final investment decision for that project has not yet been made.

Jan Gorski, the Pembina Institute’s oil and gas program director, said in order to thrive in a net-zero world, Canadian energy companies need to diversify away from fossil fuels, while at the same time reducing the carbon footprint of their oil and gas production methods.

The renewable diesel announcement, Gorski said, falls into that first category.

“It’s a perfect example of that,” Gorski said. “But we’re still waiting to see investments in reducing emissions from their existing operations.”

Parking levy would help city budget

This editorial was written and published by the Toronto Star on January 27, 2023.

Some say the defining features of a world-class city are its food, nightlife, and architecture. Some leading cities have another feature, one that is perhaps less sexy than those other attributes, but that is also instrumental for their bottom line: a tax on commercial parking lots.

New York City, Los Angeles, Montreal and Sydney rely on parking levies, in some form, as a tool to raise revenue. In Sydney, a parking levy applying to privately owned, non-residential, offstreet paid parking generated almost $100 million Canadian, according to a 2016 report from KPMG. This revenue, typically, a small daily fee paid per parking spot by the owner of the lot, can go into a city’s general coffers or be directed to specific projects.

In Montreal, the report states, annual revenues from a parking tax were approximately $23 million dollars which is designated for transit infrastructure.

Where is Toronto in all this revenue generating activity? Sadly, the answer is nowhere good.

Toronto is currently grappling with an enormous budget shortfall, and drastically reduced TTC ridership. The city is in a uniquely tough predicament due to the pandemic, as well as its financial reliance on other levels of government.

But nothing about this predicament prevents the city from helping itself. Why has the city not tapped a revenue tool used successfully in other jurisdictions to alleviate some of its financial strain?

The budget pressures demand that Toronto take a fresh look at the feasibility of imposing a tax on non-residential parking spots.

For those justifiably concerned about the equity of such a policy, there are ways to account for it. For example, as Gideon Forman, a transportation policy analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation, wrote in the Star recently, the city could exempt lots owned by hospitals, religious institutions, daycare centres or small familyrun businesses. He suggested that the levy could also be higher downtown (where space is at a premium) and lower in the suburbs.

Some argue that such exemptions would present a hellish administrative challenge. But the city cannot afford to write off potential revenue tools because they require complex problem solving.

It’s been estimated that the revenues from a parking levy could generate between $191 million and $575 million annually for Toronto, though staff cautioned in a recent report that estimate did not account for any exemptions. Not only would a parking levy create funds Toronto desperately needs, it would make the city an honest broker where its climate strategy is concerned.

Every political choice is a value judgment. If the city abstains from taxing commercial parking lots yet at the same time reduces service and increases fares on the TTC, residents will get the message that drivers are more valuable in Toronto than transit riders.

The city says it is planning for a “climate emergency” but an unwillingness to tax parking lots while shortchanging transit riders suggests otherwise.

In the end, it is telling that a group of newly elected city councillors, Dianne Saxe (Ward 11 University-Rosedale), Chris Moise (Ward 13 Toronto Centre) and Alejandra Bravo (Ward 9 Davenport), are some of the loudest voices advocating for a parking levy. This is precisely what new leaders should do: bring fresh perspectives to ideas once scoffed at.

Our hope is that the city’s grim financial situation will compel the veterans to stop scoffing. And perhaps one of them has.

A spokesperson for John Tory says the mayor “supports looking at any reasonable new revenue tools for the City of Toronto.” We implore you Mr. Mayor: take a good long look at this one.

The city says it is planning for a “climate emergency” but an unwillingness to tax parking lots while shortchanging transit riders suggests otherwise

Pollution impairs brain function

Study finds even two hours of breathing diesel fumes can affect memory, behaviour, productivity

This article was written by Kevin Jiang and Joanna Chiu, and was published in the Toronto Star on January 27, 2023.

Heavy traffic along Lake Shore Boulevard in Toronto. A new study discovered the world’s first physiological evidence of traffic pollution’s impact in humans.

Physiological evidence of traffic pollution’s impact on our bodies — or more specifically, our minds — has been discovered by scientists in Canada.

A study, published in the journal Environmental Science, found that exposure to just two hours of diesel exhaust fumes led to a decrease in the brain’s functional connectivity — a measure of how well different regions of the brain interact with each other.

While the exact ramifications are as yet unknown, previous observational studies have linked weakened functional connectivity with worsened working memory, behavioural performance and productivity at work, the study authors wrote.

The study was the world’s first to expose humans to air pollutants in a lab setting, according to the authors from the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria.

In total, 25 adults between 19 and 49 were exposed to two hours of both filtered air and air contaminated with diesel exhaust.

“In our study, Joe is compared to Joe, so the only thing that is different is the exposure to diesel,” said senior study author Chris Carlsten, professor and head of respiratory medicine and Canada Research Chair in occupational and environmental lung disease at UBC.

“A crossover design where each individual serves as their own control has vastly more statistical power than if you looked at a hundred people,” Carlsten told the Star.

Participants received a functional MRI scan before and after each treatment, enabling researchers to monitor each subject’s brain activity. They were especially interested in a brain region called the default mode network (DMN), as it’s particularly sensitive to stresses like toxicity, aging and disease.

After analyzing the MRIs, the researchers recorded a significant decrease in functional connectivity inside the default mode network after breathing diesel exhaust compared to filtered air.

“We know that altered functional connectivity in the DMN has been associated with reduced cognitive performance and symptoms of depression, so it’s concerning to see traffic pollution interrupting these same networks,” Jodie Gawryluk, psychology professor at the University of Victoria and the study’s first author, said.

“While more research is needed to fully understand the functional impacts of these changes, it’s possible that they may impair people’s thinking or ability to work.”

Additionally, Carlsten said his team is planning to publish another set of data from the same study that focused on cognition and reaction times.

“In addition to the MRI, we had participants take a standardized computer test called CANTAB, where a computer basically says, ‘Press the button if there’s a yellow square,’ and they have to do that as quickly as possible.

“Our preliminary results is that reaction time is slower under diesel conditions.”

Notably, the changes in the brain were temporary and the healthy participants’ brain function returned to their normal baseline after the exposure. However, Carlsten speculated that the effects could be longlasting when exposure is continuous.

“It would also be important for another study to look at effects from fire smoke as well, which is arguably a bigger problem in some places … Wood smoke is quite different to diesel exhaust,” he said.

Although the experiment was the first of its kind, it’s preceded by thousands of observational studies on the health impacts of traffic pollution, said Dr. Samantha Green, a Torontobased family physician and board member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

“The findings are not surprising to me, given the tremendous amount of observational research that already exists,” she said.

According to Green, traffic pollution has been linked to a broad spectrum of health disorders including issues with pregnancy, heart disease, various cancers and even an increased rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Green believes the study represents a foundational step in taking air pollution research further, despite its relatively small sample size of 25 people.

Michael Brauer, a professor at UBC’s school of population and public health, and unaffiliated with the study, recommends individuals avoid areas with heavy traffic when walking or exercising if possible, install better air ventilation at home or even change commuting patterns.