By Emily Brown, Muskoka Conservancy
For those concerned about the environment, we often look for the ways we can affect change with our own actions. We think of using less plastic, turning off lights, and buying things second-hand. With a municipal election this month, it’s a good time to focus on how we can assess our local candidates’ commitment to Muskoka’s environment.
Municipalities provide the services that are closest to home. These include local land use planning, water and sewer, solid waste disposal, roads, bridges and more. Decisions made at the local level can have major impacts on climate change and the natural environment. For example, The District Municipality of Muskoka planned over $21 million in capital spending on roads in 2022. In fact, roads has been one of the largest municipal spending areas for decades. When transportation alone accounts for 24% of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2020), we’ve eventually got to wonder if there’s a different way of doing things.
I asked Scott Young, former 4-term District Councillor, and current Executive Director of Muskoka Conservancy, for his insight on the changes local government can make and the most effective questions to ask the candidates:
“To a person, every municipal councillor or candidate will tell you the environment is a top priority. But once elected, their voting record will likely tell a different story.” says Young.
“The good ones will back municipal planners when the rules meant to protect the environment are challenged by developers,“ he continued. “I would ask each candidate whether they would properly resource their planning department to ensure good and timely land use planning. Will they fight for stricter rules and enforcement designed to protect natural shorelines, wetlands, and forests?”
And about those roads that will cost local taxpayers hundreds of millions in a single term of council?
“I would favour candidates who will allocate meaningful budget toward other transportation choices, like active transportation initiatives that make our communities more walkable, adding proper bicycle lanes, and public transit to reduce dependence on cars,” Young said.
Measures like bike lanes help to reduce our reliance on cars and reduce our overall carbon footprint. A closely related topic is sprawl. “Suburban sprawl and exurban development increase dependence on motorized transportation, generate larger carbon footprints, put more pressure on dwindling natural areas, and often displace limited local food production lands.” Young warned. “A good question to ask candidates is whether they support measures to limit intense development to within Muskoka’s existing urban boundaries?”
An additional benefit to a local election is, it’s local! Your candidates are here in the community to ask these questions and share your stories with. Finding common ground often is expressed metaphorically, but in this case, you’re already standing on it!
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