Remarks from January 13, 2020 Meeting of Fort Frances Town Council
Remarks | Check against delivery.
Good evening, and happy new year.
I would like to begin tonight on a sombre note and remember the victims of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752, of which around 60 – or one-third – of the passengers were Canadian – and to recognize the families and communities that those victims have left behind. I realize how distant these headlines can feel from our northern community, but I have been touched by the stories of loss and the profiles of the individuals and their families which have emerged in the past few days.
As our own community becomes increasingly diverse and attracts new residents from distant places, and as a border town with day-to-day experience of security concerns, we are reminded of how small our world is at this time of increased destabilization, misinformation, and fear. We are also reminded, at the start of a new decade, and as we watch the world respond to this crisis and the Australian wildfires, that these hardships call for leadership from all of us. We can and should each use the tools and platforms available to us to respond to tragedy, suffering, and loss with heart and compassion, and vision for how we can make things better and drive change in our world.
As our council moves forward in the second year of our mandate, I would like to see us equipped to do just that on the issues impacting our community, and to do so in a way that puts us on the map as a forward-thinking place to call home, and a desirable destination with a unique value proposition for new entrepreneurs, families, and industry alike.
Our council has a lot of good work underway to help us get there. Four such efforts come to mine:
First, our new strategic plan is in progress, and I understand that comprehensive efforts have been made by administration to get input on our priorities.
Second, our procedural bylaw is currently being revised by the Administration & Finance Committee, and as the youngest member of our council, I am pleased that my counterparts are heeding the need to ensure that we set up council obligations not just to be efficient and open to the public, but to encourage participation on council itself from people with full-time work or family demands on their schedules. Our renewal depends on attracting new members to this table in the future. I will be pushing for us to have a more reasonable and reliable start time for council meetings, as well as capabilities for remote participation and for members of the public to see video of our proceedings archived online.
Third, we also continue to have productive discussions – led by our Mayor – with the Agency One First Nations, and to identify shared priorities and challenges for our communities that we can support one another on.
And finally, our upcoming budget cycle presents a new opportunity to consider whether we are optimally delivering services and making investments and responsible financial decisions that do not unduly burden future generations. I want to thank our senior administration for all of the time they have committed so far to provide us with the sound advice and information to make those decisions.
The upshot of all of this is that as councillors and as a modern council in 2020, I would like to see us be more forthright about driving an agenda for the issues that matter to us, and to have opportunities to articulate our vision for the community in the new roaring ‘20s. We need to set the agenda more than we follow it. Business as usual won’t cut it.
Tonight I am testing the waters on this premise myself, and in result, we will be considering an important resolution to support a bylaw regulating certain single-use products in our community. This bylaw has been a project of mine since the summer, where I conferred with a number of stakeholder organizations in the community, including environmental groups, youth, and the local business community.
I am very pleased with the level of support this initiative has received from the people around the table at those organizations, but also from the councillors around this table during our discussions since November at both the Operations & Facilities and Planning & Development committees. I want to thank those councillors who have been in close communication with me on this for their input and support.
The current bylaw, if passed, will essentially do 3 things:
It will prohibit the distribution of single-use plastic bags at checkouts;
It will prohibit the distribution of single-use foam food containers for prepared foods – such as styrofoam cups or takeout containers; and
It will require that plastic drinking straws be available on request only.
The bylaw is modelled on provincial legislation from the east coast, and the goal of these efforts is to reduce the waste output of single-use products which are harmful to the environment, and can take hundreds of years to decompose.
At committee, it was decided that in order to balance the needs of business, we would adopt a phased approach, whereby the bylaw would take effect on January 1 of next year, but the fines created under the bylaw would not take effect until January 1, 2022. The purpose of that timeline is to support consumers as they transition to new practices, but also to allow businesses to exhaust any existing inventories.
Certainly, it is my hope that our local businesses will be compliant by 2021, like the community leaders they always are in Fort Frances. I recognize that some of the alternative products may come at higher prices than existing stock. Our expectation is that by curbing consumer behaviour, we will reduce demand for single-use bags across the board, so that fewer are required. I would also like to point out that a number of local businesses are already compliant with some of these rules or have plans to reduce their single-use plastic waste in the coming year.
Many local consumers are already heeding the call and have adopted more environmentally-friendly practices when they are shopping. Our citizens are largely behind this initiative and are looking to us to get this done. I would like to share some of their comments from social media:
Allison says, she wishes Fort would do more to become an even greener community.
Brian says, “OMG education of global warming is great but it’s time for action and single use plastic is a no-brainer.”
Michelle says, “Hopefully this passes. Many other communities have done it already and guess what? People are still shopping there.”
Judy says that “Education would be a waste of money. Everyone is already aware of the plastics issue.”
Sandra says that “The number of plastic bags leaving stores in carts after all of the awareness doesn’t seem to change. It’s time to go further.”
Leah says that “Whether the town takes the initiative to ban them now or waits for someone else to ban them later, the point is that single use plastics are not sustainable.”
LeAnne says, “Although inconvenient, I’d like to see plastic water bottles eliminated too!”; and
Christine Denby says, “Let’s get it done.”
I have received emails and phone calls, and have been stopped on the street by many people who are thrilled we are doing this – some, asking if we could do more.
Councillor Brunetta is not here tonight, but at committee she reminded us of when Ontario introduced its seatbelt law, which met some opposition at the time. The take away is that sometimes governments have do what’s in our best interest, but grates against our resistance to change.
I have also heard from representatives of other communities who are following our discussion. I hope all of us can recognize this as an important opportunity for Fort Frances to show leadership on environmental protection and in the fight against climate change.
The reality is that we can no longer wait for others to be the first-mover in these global struggles. The answers are staring us in the face; the problem is evident; and we have the jurisdiction, power, and public will to do something to address it.
I will reserve further comment on the bylaw at this time, as I understand we have a deputation on this and some discussion or clarifications may be required when we get there.
Thank you for indulging my remarks.