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Premiers sign groundbreaking national climate change strategy

Ontario is proving to be a leader in climate change, and that continues with the signing the federal agreement pushing for a carbon tax, known as the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. Under this agreement, every province must produce a carbon tax framework, and Ontario’s cap and trade agreement makes it one of the best prepared to begin cutting greenhouse emissions right away.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with the other Premiers of Canada at the First Ministers’ Meeting in Ottawa last week and every province signed the agreement except Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Under the Paris Agreement, Canada committed to reducing emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The carbon tax framework will help provinces to meet this goal and unifies the country in trying to actually make efforts to stop climate change.

Ontario is prepared for the federal carbon tax mandate because of aggressive targets set by Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan. The cap and trade program will force high polluters to lower their emissions or pay large penalties on their carbon usage. The program has come under criticism though due to the uncertainty of how much profit cap and trade will make. It is difficult to estimate how much the credits will cost and if there will be a high need for them, but Ontario can learn from cap and trade partners in Quebec and California who have already implemented the program.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is opposed to the Pan-Canadian Framework on Climate Change and is concerned as to what will happen to climate change agreements in the United States when President Donald Trump comes into power. Trudeau responded to these concerns by emphasizing that Canadian climate change policies exist outside of American interests. Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister was also opposed to the agreement and switched focus to healthcare funding throughout the meeting.

The federal government is moving forward with setting climate change goals and is leading the provinces into taking responsibility for carbon emissions. Manitoba and Saskatchewan will be forced to follow the carbon tax guidelines despite not signing, and Wall has hinted to the media that he may try to take the issue to court.

This Pan-Canadian Framework is a historic decision on the part of Canada and demonstrates the country’s unified front against climate change. Despite certain opinions in the First Minister’s Meeting, the premiers are moving forward with implementing a carbon tax and Canada’s commitments to the Paris Conference goals will hopefully be met. It will be interesting to see how each province decides to legislate their carbon tax and the success rate of each strategy.

Stay tuned climate change fanatics — it is going to get a lot more exciting from here.

SmartTrack is the fast track to relief

As the liberal government adjusts to leading the country, cities from coast to coast are scrambling to have shovel-ready infrastructure projects to pitch our new leaders. Prior to the 2015 election, the  Liberals spent months in public consultations and identified transit and infrastructure expansion as a top priority. In Toronto this led to our highest priority – relief line – made it onto their policy platform.

Most, if not all, transit planning experts believe that the relief line is Toronto’s highest priority transit line, and with growing density predicted the it will be absolutely vital by 2030. The relief line is a subway route that would run east-west across the core and then turn north at both ends to meet up with the Bloor subway line.  It was first introduced in 1910, and again in subsequent years ever since, with municipal politicians continually deferring the plan because of it’s cost and the time it will take to build.

I’ve spent over five years advocating, campaigning, and even singing for the relief line. I’ve ignored aging politicians who told me it was impossible, and media columnists who mocked my determination and campaign tactics. I’ve spoken to hundreds of planners, transit experts and historians and understand how easy it is for such an important subway line to be pushed aside by politicians wanting to garner immediate votes.

So when Mayor John Tory first announced his idea for SmartTrack, I was confused. Confused because I have grown to know and respect him over the years, and I know that he is a man of principle. He loves Toronto and he has given his life to this city. He isn’t a man who would simply cast aside the most vital transit line in Toronto just to garner a few votes. So, why would he suggest another plan that could risk delaying the relief line? The answer is simple. He isn’t deferring the relief line, but simply trying to provide a quick solution while we wait for the relief line to be built. He confirmed in a text message, “SmartTrack isn’t going to replace the relief line which will take over a decade to build, but by using existing transit corridors SmartTrack will provide a much quicker way to ease the overcrowding on the Yonge line.”

From planning studies, to land acquisitions, and environmental assessments the relief line will take almost a decade before shovels get in the ground, it could take 15 years or more to build. Now,  consider the fact that the Eglinton Crosstown will add even more people onto the Yonge Street corridor. It’s easy to see why Mayor Tory must try to provide another form of relief to bridge the gap between our immediate need and the time that it will take to build the relief subway line.  By using existing rail corridors SmartTrack will avoid the lengthy process of land acquisitions and environmental assessments that the relief subway line requires.

It should be noted that SmartTrack has forced the City, TTC, and Metrolinx (the provincial transit body) to work together in collaboration — a procedural success that many didn’t think possible. The fact that Mayor Tory has insisted that SmartTrack does not have a defined route, gives planning experts an opportunity to create the best and quickest way to create an east-west line across the city.

As Mayor Tory mentioned, “there will be issues with SmartTrack, as there are with all big transit projects,” but the idea itself is good and like all good ideas it must stand up to rigorous analysis. However is must also stand up to the politics of city council. The mayor has to bring city council together around a unified transit plan that includes SmartTrack and the Yonge relief line. The plan must focus on the priority lines that our transit planning experts have identified. It will need to create connectivity between all modes of transit, and address the shortage of east-west transit routes while providing alternative ways to travel north — a North x East x West transit plan. Mayor Tory has promised to consult the experts when it comes to all the transit Toronto is planning. And I know that he will, because he is a man of his word — and that is why I will back him every step of the way.