WELLINGTON ‒ A county councillor is reminding council to consider climate change in its decisions as future budget deliberations and subsequent "tough choices" continue into the new year.
Previously presenting Wellington County's top five climate challenges to MP Michael Chong and staff through her work with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities climate caucus, County Coun. Diane Ballantyne said while one of the county's main environmental issues is, not surprisingly, housing, energy poverty also plays a big role.
In addition to housing, the resiliency of local agri-food systems, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing local capacity for green building and renovation demands, as well as building partnerships, and moving towards Net Zero energy were also identified as some of the county's top challenges.
"While these are big challenges, they're also opportunities," said Ballantyne. "Once you can identify there's a problem, that's when you can actually take steps towards figuring out solutions."
According to Karen Chisholme, the county's climate change and sustainability manager, it's estimated 25 per cent of the community spends more than six per cent of their take-home income on utility bills.
"(Our community is) needing to make tough choices between paying for heat or being able to pay to put food on the table," said Ballantyne. "(I know) we can't solve all of those very big and complex problems but we can address a piece of it."
When looking at how to reduce emissions, Ballantyne would like to see the county receive provincial or federal support to facilitate a regional transit system.
"We need workers to support manufacturing and we need to reduce emissions from commuters," said Ballantyne. "A regional transit system is a massive investment...but we need to work on continuing to figure out how to make transit available and more attractive than driving a personal vehicle."
But for Ballantyne, it all comes down to the "triple bottom line," which encourages politicians to look at the social and environmental impacts, in addition to economic, when making policy and budget decisions
"Our traditional way of looking at what the bottom line is is always just about money and money is certainly very important," said Ballantyne. "We have to make sure that we are being good stewards of residents taxes however, it's not the only thing that matters."
Currently, the county has increased its leaf and yard waste as well as introduced the green bin program, achieving a 50 per cent residential waste diversion level for two years in a row, while the home energy retrofit program is working to reduce emissions from residential low-rise buildings and address energy poverty.
The county is also working on electrifying its fleet after the Federation of Canadian Municipalities identified this as the number one thing a municipality can do to reduce its carbon footprint.
Isabel Buckmaster is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program.