Perth County adopts greenhouse gas reduction plan despite concerns from councillors

·9 min read

PERTH COUNTY – Although Perth County council voted in favour of adopting a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) reduction plan, several council members raised concerns around the implementation of the plan on Oct. 21.

The climate coordinator, Amara Kartick, has been presenting a GHG reduction plan to the seven partnering municipalities in Perth County. North Perth, Perth East, Perth South, West Perth, Stratford, St. Marys and the county itself.

Coun. Daryl Herlick apologized before he raised his concerns, stating he hoped his internet was good because there was severe weather out of the blue.

“Pretty common, here at my house,” he said.

His first concern was a lack of communication during the development of the GHG plan.

“I received one email and it went to junk and I never got a call or nothing,” he said. “Now I know this was supported up in North Perth and I’m suspecting they were kind of guiding this approach.”

Herlick said he has been in contact with the Grain Farmers of Ontario and the local chapter has concerns with the plan.

“I see nothing on crop sequestering of emissions, just that we’re polluters and it makes it very difficult for me,” he said. “It’s quite heavy-handed and… it seems like I’m swamped with smart cities, affordability, living wage – all these buzz words and the United Nations… It’s kind of all over this paperwork here… Again, our local chapters want some involvement here, grain farmers. They have great concerns, as well, do I.”

Coun. Todd Kasenberg said Herlick presented the notion that North Perth guided this project.

“I wanted to make clear that in fact there is a staff committee that serves as the guides for this project,” he said. “(It) is constituted of representatives of every municipality and while North Perth is the contract holder and payer of the salary of the climate change coordinator, that does not put us in a disproportionate place with regards to managing… the project so I think it’s really important that we understand that there are representatives from every municipality steering this project.”

Warden James Aitcheson said Director of Public Works John McClelland was appointed as county staff to the steering committee and he believed Herlick was appointed as a councillor.

Deputy Mayor Rhonda Ehgoetz said the main task of the climate change coordinator is to develop a community-wide greenhouse gas emission plan.

“So we have the plan before us so what is going on here?” she asked. “Are we moving together as a group?”

She pointed out that the seven partner municipalities asked for this as a group.

“We all have different ideas,” said Ehgoetz. “We all have different needs. Even amongst the five lower tier and upper tier, we’re all at different places.”

She noted that Perth South moved to adopt the plan. She added that North Perth moved to adopt the plan and implement it, which North Perth representatives would later dispute.

“The City of Stratford, they recommended that the plan be adopted and that the council provide direction setting the emission reduction targets for their city and that they adopt… the One Plan Living Principle so they voted for their staff to develop an implementation plan for the goals,” said Ehgoetz. “That tells me the City of Stratford is going to implement their plan on their own. The same with the Town of St. Marys. They have sent it to their town’s green committee who is going to develop and implement a plan… So I’m trying to figure out where we are going now.”

Kartick said the plan is a guiding document to support municipal action plans moving forward into the implementation stage.

She will have conversations with each municipality and play a role in the Stratford and St. Marys committees.

“They have their governing bodies within their staff that deal with this already so my role there is to help update their emission reduction targets,” she said.

The first thing Kartick said she will need to do is to collect current data because the baseline numbers were collected in 2017.

Ehgoetz said she thinks each municipality has to decide what they want to implement.

Coun. Matt Duncan replied to Ehgoetz concerning her statement that North Perth was already implementing the plan.

“To the best of my knowledge North Perth’s motion… was to create an implementation plan to move forward with the stuff that was in this plan,” he said. “I think there is a lot of really good stuff in this plan. Reducing carbon emissions is not just about the environment but it’s also a cost-effective measure to all of our lower-tier municipalities and our county with reduced fossil fuel use. Now does this mean that we need to start saying to people ‘you’re bad because you use fossil fuels’? No. It means we need to look at the future and see how we can create best practices to reduce that usage.”

Duncan agreed with Herlick that it was disappointing the plan did not mention carbon sequestering.

“I think that’s a big part of our plan,” he said. “We have a huge natural environment that sequesters carbon in Perth County.”

Coun. Doug Eidt agreed that carbon sequestering needs to be addressed. He also wondered what happens to the carbon taxes raised in Perth County.

“What are they doing?” he asked. “They are paying your wage I presume because we got a government grant for this but there is another huge amount of money. West Perth did not adopt this… We set it aside to see what kind of answers we were going to get on this one… I don’t know where we’re going as a council in West Perth. I don’t know where we are going as a council in Perth County.”

Coun. Robert Wilhelm also wondered where carbon tax money is being used.

Kasenberg said he sees the plan as a house with some furniture dropped in there by movers and he thinks what happens next is that each partner municipality has to decorate and furnish their room to suit their needs.

“To me, we have to be careful about saying we’re not prepared to adopt this plan because the plan is setting the house stage,” he said. “Yes there is work to be done and the question Deputy Warden Ehgoetz asks is an important one, and that is… do we want to march in lockstep or not. Of course, we’ve heard the arguments for not marching in lockstep.”

Kasenberg noted discrepancies in the data of the report between the municipalities.

“That said there are some things we should do together and some things we should do apart,” he said. “Perhaps council has to have a significant discussion about what we’re prepared to do together but I think we need to identify places where we are prepared to act together because there is efficiency and we’re going to deal with that anti-red tape agenda.”

Ehgoetz said her biggest question was how would they get to the next step in the plan.

“Do the CAOs and the mayors meet?” she asked. “Do each of the councils have discussions and then bring their concerns forward? I’m just not sure how we get to that next step.”

Coun. Walter McKenzie said he thinks this is a work in progress and he agreed with many of Kasenberg’s comments.

“This isn’t something that’s going to go away,” he said. “It isn’t something we can sweep under the table and just forget about it because it’s here and I’m not sure if Coun. Eidt wants to take on the responsibility of filling out the forms every year to send to the government on what our greenhouse gas emissions are, but I know we don’t have staff in West Perth to do that. I think the best approach to proceed is by working together… If we all go out on our own and start doing our own we’re not going to get anywhere.”

Ehgoetz said she hears the argument for working together but does not want the group to be too large.

“The cities to me, the urban need to do their own thing and it sounds like they are,” she said. “As long as we’re sticking together as Perth County we’re not too big.”

Herlick said the situation is complex and individual identity is needed.

“I have concerns about where this is coming from,” he said. “Some may say I have my tinfoil hat on too tight. Well here we are with COVID too and I had my tinfoil hat on too tight and it’s not looking the best. So I have my concerns.”

Aitcheson said he agrees with Kasenberg, that the plan is in its infancy.

He said there is already an agriculture committee but they have not met for many years, even before COVID.

“What I honestly think we need to do when I look at the agriculture side is just try to solve this within ourselves,” said Aitcheson. “I think Coun. Herlick made the comment, let’s get some information from the Grain Farmers of Ontario, let’s get some information… from the federations.”

Aitcheson said that moving forward there has to be information gathered about the benefits of agriculture, not just the negatives.

A motion to accept the report and adopt the plan was put on the floor.

Herlick said he stays steadfast council needs to be careful about adopting the plan.

“Just because everything is in there we don’t need to adopt everything,” he said.

Ehgoetz wanted a clarification that more information would be brought back to council before the plan is implemented.

“Once the plan is adopted the beginning… stage is to begin this re-evaluation of the numbers and projects that have occurred since 2017 to have a better view of what has been done, what needs to be done, what areas need focus and what areas we can pull back on,” said Kartick.

“So we’re getting an implementation plan, is that correct?” asked Ehgoetz.

Kartick shook her head yes.

Coun. Hugh McDermid asked for confirmation that lower-tier municipalities could customize the plan to suit their needs.

Kartick again shook her head yes.

“I would just like to reiterate this plan was for seven different municipalities… so it had to be broad and expansive in a sense,” she said. “I’ve been in this position for four months so I’m doing the best that I can with the four months I’ve had… and moving forward I will take all of your concerns into the implementation stages.”

Councillors Eidt, McDermid and Herlick voted against adopting the plan.

Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner

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