There is a growing disconnect between what our governments think is progress and what we think is progress. Nowhere is that more evident than in municipal committee meetings, especially with old-school progressives. There is a mindset common in an older generation of progressives whereby incremental action towards the right thing is, or should be, celebrated as though the end result of the incremental process had already been achieved. At the Thursday, Dec. 7 meeting of the Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee, that celebration was reserved for the HRM’s extended producer responsibility.
For those who don’t know, extended producer responsibility is a catch-all term for policies designed to make businesses responsible for the pollution their products cause, not just the pollution they produce in the course of their business. In HRM, the focus is on paper products and packaging, and this committee is recommending to council that Halifax register as an extended producer responsibility city and come up with policies to enforce it.
There is pushback from companies to regulations like this because for companies, like cities, making major changes takes time. For example, in 2016—coincidentally the year city government started talking about extended producer responsibility—Tim Hortons started designing a new lid to replace the ones that leaked all the time if you opened them wrong. Two year later, in 2018, the new Tims lids started rolling out. And in 2025, nine years after it started, Halifax will complete the first step required to maybe start being an extended producer responsibility city for those new Tim Hortons lids.
Also at this meeting the committee got an update on how much progress has been made towards the city’s HalifACT goals. Committee chair/councillor Tony Mancini wanted to know why the public didn’t seem to realize what a good job the city was doing at meeting its climate change goals. He was worried that folks in the public may not be as enthusiastic as he is about this plan. Especially as the plan is being recognized globally for being awesome.
And this is mainly a disconnect between what the city’s bureaucracy thinks is good, and what is actually experienced as good for the people who live in the city. For example, the city lists as a highlight that our city’s transportation network grew by 0.00004% this year with the addition of 2 km of AAA infrastructure. In the report the additional infrastructure is presented with no framing.
But the report on the city’s HalifACT progress also had some downsides. Although the city is making good progress on about one third of its goals, the rest are either lagging or stalled. Councillor Sam Austin told staff it was a good report, but was missing the reason for the delays and stalls. Austin wants this information, because he is one of the people who can make decisions about the future of this city. Having a report saying there are issues, without also outlining what he (and other councillors) could do to change things wasn’t really much help.
He told his peers that the climate emergency is just that: An immediate and ongoing crisis. “History will not be kind to us,” Austin warned. He reminded his councillor colleagues on the committee that city council is one of the modern institutions that has the power to actually change the way we do things. Power that people in their position are choosing not to use. Elected leaders are choosing to ignore the ever-more-dire warnings in favour of the statue quo. Even though they know better.