E-newsletter (May 2023)

Our May edition of ‘Briefing Notes’ covers the top stories from the month, including Vienna’s social housing program, BC’s e-bike rebate initiative, Quebec’s new Airbnb legislation, decriminalization, and much more. Also announcing #HighGround 2024 dates in Vancouver (March 22-23)!

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E-newsletter (April 2023)

This edition of ‘Briefing Notes’ features international stories from the past two months (March & April), offering some wise practices and lessons learned on the climate crisis (and swimming pools!), e-scooters, 15-minute cities, the housing first concept, housing poverty, and much more.

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E-newsletter (Summer 2020)

Briefing Notes for the summer of 2020 has articles (on climate action, economic recovery, housing affordability & equity, returning to school, drug dispensing machines, park policies, etc.) that generated the most interest on our social media feeds this summer.

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E-newsletter (May 2020)

Briefing Notes for May 2020 has resources on anti-racism, perspectives on rebuilding our local economies and educational systems, stories on leadership around social housing and food security, and much more.

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Opinion: Municipalities concerned over new recycling plan

Written by Charley Beresford.
Read this on the Vancouver Sun

Any 10-year-old will tell you that newspapers don’t go in the garbage, they go in the recycling.

That happens because many years ago, municipalities in B.C. took on the responsibility to get products like paper, glass and cans out of the garbage stream and into recycling. Local governments did it both for environmental reasons and because their communities demanded it.

The program has been highly successful. In Metro Vancouver, more than half of the garbage generated is recycled and local governments want to increase that number to 80 per cent by 2020.

But big recycling changes threaten this reliable, curbside blue box program. Back in 2011, the province amended the Recycling Regulation to make the people who produce packaging and printed paper waste responsible for recycling it.

The new organization, Multi Material BC (MMBC) is governed by the organizations that produce recycling waste. The provincial government gave MMBC complete control over recycling programs. MMBC was tasked with submitting a plan to deal with the recycling changes which was approved by the government in April.

Making the people who produce the garbage responsible for it sounds like a great idea. But the private companies that control MMBC have different priorities than local governments and their citizens. For private companies, the priority will likely be cutting costs, not cutting the amount of waste products or maximizing recycling.

Local governments, the people with a history of making recycling work, have been largely cut out of the process of making the new regulations. Now municipalities are subject to a take-it-or-leave-it offer from MMBC. They must respond to MMBC by Sept. 16, and this financial offer from MMBC is non-negotiable.

Local governments have been offered three options for curbside and depot collection. They can choose to accept the collection financial incentive (act as a contractor for MMBC); or decline the collection financial incentive (MMBC will get another contractor to operate the recycling program in your community); or decline and opt out of MMBC’s system (no change, local government runs their recycling program as if MMBC doesn’t exist).

The main concerns from local governments about this new program are that the “financial incentive” offered doesn’t actually cover the costs of operating current recycling programs and that it fails to meet the new Recycling Regulation objective of transferring full financial responsibility for recycling and waste reduction to producers.

The city of Port Moody wrote to the Metro Vancouver Region Board on July 3 that the “financial incentive” will leave a 20-per-cent financial shortfall for their city.

City engineers from communities in Metro Vancouver wrote to the provincial ministry of environment on July 30 supporting concerns raised in Port Moody. They believe the contract and pricing methodology are so “problematic” that a clause-by-clause negotiation could be long, expensive and adversarial. Municipalities in Metro Vancouver have raised concerns to MMBC throughout the process.

Correspondence from Coquitlam’s mayor and council has asked the minister of environment to intervene in negotiations between MMBC and local governments, stating that “the approach being taken by MMBC appears to favour MMBC’s interests only, and conflicts with existing local government processes and policies.”

Why are local governments so concerned? In many communities, garbage and recycling are the No. 1 issue raised by citizens. In addition, local governments are often invested in their successful recycling programs, and they worry these programs are at risk. And finally, if the provincial government and MMBC do not successfully implement the new program, it will be left to local governments to pick up the pieces. And that could be costly.

Cities are rightfully concerned that instead of having a program that actually reduces waste, what appears to be emerging is a program that focuses primarily on cutting industry costs. The quality of current collection service could be adversely affected.

A number of local governments are calling for the province to intervene and extend the consultation and negotiation process. Local governments have led the way on recycling in B.C., and more attention to their concerns could help pave the way for effective programs across the province.

Charley Beresford is the executive director of the Centre for Civic Governance, a Vancouver-based public policy institute that works with community leadership to meet today’s social and environmental challenges.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun.

DOWNLOAD FULL REPORT: Multi-Material BC and Local Governments: Will the new industry-run recycling system cause backsliding?


Don’t exclude cities from Canada’s energy plan

Written by Charley Beresford.
Read this article on the Tyee

On slashing emissions, many municipalities are already trailblazers. Bring ’em to the table!

In April, three Canadian premiers met with media to provide an update on interprovincial efforts to develop a national energy strategy. While their update on the Council of the Federation’s plans opened a needed window on the negotiations, missing from public discussions so far is any reference to the stakes — and potential roles — for municipalities in a Canadian energy strategy.

There are strong arguments for municipalities becoming a bigger part of this process. Rising public sector energy costs and community energy security questions — as well as local economic and environmental concerns related to energy use, production and transportation — mean that municipalities have important interests in the direction of energy policy in Canada.

Energy security is an area of growing concern for local governments and Canadian communities. Dependence on imported oil leaves public sector organizations, businesses and residents susceptible to fluctuating prices and concerns about supply security. And energy poverty — when households spend over 10 per cent of income on energy costs — is a direct problem for a growing number of Canadians.

Globally, many countries are already in the process of planned transitions to more sustainable, locally-based and ultimately more secure national energy systems. Municipalities are key players in many of these transitions.

Renewable and district energy projects by municipalities are an important component of Germany’s transition towards an 80 per cent renewable-based energy system by 2050. In Denmark, municipalities have played an important role in that country’s renewable energy and energy efficiency success through the nationwide development of district energy systems by local authorities and through municipal leadership in wind and renewable electricity generation.

Rising climate bill

Energy use is deeply intertwined with climate change. In April, the same month the three premiers were talking about the path toward a national energy strategy, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reported that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 400 parts per million. This is 50 parts per million above the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide concentration named by many scientists, including by former NASA scientist James Hansen.

In 2011 alone, extreme weather events cost Canadians $1.6 billion, and the bill is projected to get much worse in years to come. By 2020, the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy estimates the annual economic impact of climate change will be $5 billion, and by 2050 could be more than $40 billion. Many of these costs will be borne by local governments.

Local governments have direct or indirect control of 45 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, and in some provinces are already expected to meet GHG reduction targets. Through measures such as strengthened building codes, better land use planning, public transit development, capturing waste heat from landfill and sewage infrastructure, many Canadian municipalities have been trailblazers, reducing energy consumption and cutting GHG emissions.

At the same time, local governments have been constrained in these efforts by downloading and inadequate support from senior levels of government. Better tools and more resources to help municipalities reduce GHG emissions and conserve energy are crucial to any national climate change strategy.

Imagine, clean energy jobs!

But it’s not all doom and gloom; a national energy strategy opens the door to new economic opportunities for Canadian communities, as well as opportunities to address imbalances in the relationships between municipalities and other orders of government.

Municipalities stand to benefit from a policy framework that encourages clean energy development, green technologies and energy conservation. Canada has abundant renewable and hydrocarbon resources, and energy exports are an important part of our economy. However, the ways we produce and use energy are changing.

Alternative, renewable and low-carbon energy production is rapidly growing. This is a global transformation, and without concerted action, Canada risks being left behind. Jobs and economic activity in the clean energy sector are increasing, and a comprehensive national energy strategy could help municipalities capitalize on these new opportunities.

A 2012 report by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy assesses the current value of Canada’s green low-carbon goods and services market at about $8 billion, and notes it could grow to $60 billion by 2050 with supportive policies. Diversifying Canada’s economy into these sectors could help reduce our country’s vulnerability to the cyclical ups and downs of global commodities markets, and reduce the incidence of hardship in our communities.

The premiers present for the April 2013 announcement referenced ongoing work with provincial and territorial energy ministers to refine a plan for the Council of the Federation’s July 24, 2013 meeting with national public consultations to follow.

The plan to develop a national energy strategy is clearly a step in the right direction. An overarching vision to encourage cooperation toward common goals, such as climate change mitigation, energy security, environmental sustainability and a more diversified economy will benefit all Canadians. It will be a stronger vision if Canada’s municipal governments, which have such important stakes and key contributions to make, are part of the process.

How urban design affects our health

Research from the University of California San Diego (UCSD) has found that people in more walkable cities are more likely to be healthy.

The research involved studies in 11 countries, and recommends that cities encourage walking and physical activity through:

  • better integration of residential areas with commercial areas 
  • building communities so that the places where people want to go are in walking distance
  • prioritize pedestrians, bicyclists and public transit

Click here to read a Globe and Mail interview on this issue with UCSD Professor James Sallis.

‘New normal’ weather a major threat to Canadian municipal infrastructure and finances

Newly updated weather benchmarks from Environment Canada show that Canada’s national average winter temperature has risen 3.2 degrees. Canada is getting hotter faster than ever before and at a faster rate than almost any other country. This also means that rain, snow, sleet and hail storms are becoming more erratic. 

As Canadian insurers and other economists have noted, Canada’s infrastructure wasn’t built for this kind of climate, and much of the resulting burden falls on municipal governments. 

To read a January 2013 Globe and Mail column about the municipal financial, health, safety, infrastructure and  legal liability implications of these ‘new normal’ weather patterns, click here.