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  • Writer's pictureDouglas W. Judson

Remarks to Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce General Meeting

Check against delivery.

Good afternoon.

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that we are gathered here today in Treaty #3 territory, which is the traditional land of the Anishinaabe, and a region in which the Métis people share history.

Thank you for the invitation to be here today. It is wonderful to see that even in 2019, when so many outside forces are creating new challenges for small business, that we have a vibrant community of them here in Fort Frances, and that the Chamber continues to provide a voice for their concerns. That is a triumph and I want to give you all a pat on the back for your continued involvement with your local Chamber.

Today I’d like to talk to you about leadership, and specifically some of the leadership that our council has shown over the past year. I am not the spokesperson for the Town – that job falls to the Mayor. (And both Mayor Caul and Councillor Behan are here, so I am going to be on especially good behaviour.)

What I am here to give you is my independent account of the hard work we have been engaged in together to move this community forward, and then to talk about something I think we should do together next.

Since we were sworn in on December 3 last year, we have been busy:

  • We have recognized that we need more housing options, and have started on a course to implement rules allowing secondary dwellings within residential properties.

  • We have heard the call of reconciliation, and have forged a new relationship with neighbouring First Nations communities.

  • We have acted to ensure that citizens of our district can count on the same treatment by our justice system as everyone else in Ontario by speaking out about the condition of our local jail, and the longstanding judicial vacancy at our courthouse.

  • We have acted to control ballooning costs for taxpayers – working with the OPP to develop a new model for courthouse security, negotiating directly instead of paying legal fees, and we continue to lead the region in a number of financial indicators.

  • Our Mayor has responded to concerns about downtown crime and safety, by bringing community partners together to work on proactive solutions.

  • We have opened the community’s door to new business ventures in emerging industries, like cannabis retail.

  • We are implementing an asset management plan so that we can make evidence-based decisions and properly save money and sequence work on our infrastructure, so that we aren’t passing that buck to future generations.

  • We have set out on a course to plot a new strategic plan for Fort Frances that positions us as a destination, rather than a gateway, and looks at ways at making council itself more inclusive of younger members of our community.

  • And most importantly this year, we have stood up to big corporate bullies. We have been loud and clear that any license to harvest wood from our local forests comes with obligations to this community, and that we won’t stand by while underhanded non-disclosure agreements, over-broad restrictive covenants, or baseless threats of lawsuits are used to strip our community of its economic assets and potential.

That is called good corporate citizenship. But the thing is that all of you already know what that looks like.

Small businesses in this district are the backbone of so many local initiatives, fundraisers, and charitable works. We have a vibrant BIA made up of business leaders who commit their time to improving our downtown; we have independent hotel operators that are involved in the committee to determine the use of the Municipal Accommodation Tax revenues; and just recently we have had local businesses that have stepped up to help a gymnastics program get started or simply to make coffee available to Legion members on Remembrance Day. The contributions you have made are too many for me to list, but we owe you our thanks for all of them.

Our council – like all of you – is making its decisions with a view to solving local problems and making sure that this community is equipped with the amenities, resources, and opportunities for future generations to make it their home and build a life here for their families.

As we look forward to 2020, it is clear that there is still much work to do. And I believe that the next stage of our leadership requires action on the single biggest threat facing our civilization: climate change and environmental disaster.

What is no longer debatable in 2019 is that the rate of our consumption and the contaminants and waste it generates is no longer sustainable without drastic action and policy changes at all levels of government.

Climate change is already having human impacts. We are seeing more severe storms, more dangerous wildfires, and changing seasonal patterns that are taking their toll on more northern communities. Between 1980 and 2017, 448,000 Canadians were forced to leave their homes because of wildfires, but more than half of those evacuations occurred since 2010. A warmer planet means more widespread transmission of disease, and increased political strife as mass migration due to food and water shortages reach a critical point. Nice lake you have out there. Be a shame if anything were to happen to it.

There are hidden costs of our inaction as well. Studies have found that half of children between ages 7 and 11 worry about climate change. “Eco-anxiety” plagues our most vulnerable – those who can’t vote, can’t change public policy or business practices, but who will have deal with the consequences of our inaction and are growing up with a profound sense of hopelessness as a result.

With mounting evidence every year about the devastating impact of climate change, it is no wonder. One Australian study went as far as to say that human civilization could end by 2050 if action isn’t taken. That study may be an outlier, but just last week a medical journal reported that a baby born in Canada today will never know a time in which his or her health isn’t at risk from a warming planet.

This is a serious problem that none of us can ignore, and I challenge all of us to consider how our businesses, homes, and organizations can make change and part of the solution.

And I want the Town of Fort Frances to do its part as well. That’s why today I am here to share that I have submitted a proposed bylaw for consideration by council which will do a small part in the fight against climate change and environmental degradation.

The bylaw I have submitted will prohibit the distribution of single-use plastic checkout bags and certain other single use products, such as drinking straws and styrofoam food containers. If passed, it will go into effect for January 1, 2021, in order to allow consumers and businesses sufficient time to adapt their practices and to exhaust existing inventories. This essentially means that consumers will need to purchase reusable bags, or businesses will have to offer paper bags or boxes for packaging of goods. Bulk plastic bags – like garbage bags – would continue to be available. The bylaw is only concerned with certain products distributed at the point of sale to transport goods or hold prepared foods.

This effort is less about making rules or levying fines and more about curbing our behaviour. Our reliance on single-use products, like plastic bags, and the havoc their production and decomposition reaps on the environment are a sizeable element of the climate crisis. After the extraction of the fossil fuels to produce plastic, their carbon footprint continues to grow well past its useful life through how it is disposed of, even if it is disposed of properly.

It is estimated that every year, 1 to 5 trillion plastic bags are used and discarded around the world, 10,000 tonnes of plastic debris enters the Great Lakes each year, a town of 2,500 households could send a million plastic bags to landfills ever year (Fort Frances has 3,800), and, globally, a truck load of plastic waste enters the ocean every minute. The ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ having grown to over 600,000 square miles, which is three times the size of all of Northwestern Ontario.

Plastic pollution is simply out of control. Bags, in particular, are ubiquitous in roadside litter and waterways, and are mistaken for food by animals, contributing to wider ecosystem destruction. A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to decompose, versus a few months for their paper alternatives.

In effect, plastic contributes to greenhouse gas emission at every stage of its lifecycle – from its production to how we manage it as a waste product. By 2050, one report estimates that plastic will be responsible for 13% of our carbon diet.

I have had the opportunity to speak with the Chamber board, as well as the BIA and representatives of various other stakeholder groups, including local youths. I think one message that has resonated with most of them is that moving away from plastic supports the growth of a forest products economy, and we should be part of that movement because of where we are situated.

While Fort Frances, on its own, will not tip the global scales one way or the other, leadership is about taking action and showing how something is done. At the same time, I readily acknowledge that this isn’t enough. We should do more – and we must if we want to show leadership on sustainability. This bylaw is the low-hanging fruit – especially when we know that alternatives to these single-use products are now widely and economically available to us. The fact is that this bylaw is only a start – a nudge, if you will – to challenge all of us to step up and reflect on how we contribute to this global problem, and how locally we can contribute to a solution.

And so with that, while we celebrate the achievements of our community over the past year, it is my hope that we can do so while looking ahead to new challenges and opportunities to show leadership in local government, in business, and in sustainability.

Fort Frances is a small drop in the bucket of environmental responsibility, but change requires leadership at all levels of government and in all sizes of community and business enterprise. Our society can simply no longer afford to pass on environmental costs to its future generations.

It continues to be a privilege for me to serve this community on council. Thank you for having me here today. I am happy to take a few questions while I am here, if there is time.

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