The International Panel on Climate Change released a report last week. It’s pretty dire. Even though our politicians have spent years touting policies that will eventually fix climate change, they haven’t actually done much to implement them. This means the earth is on track to blow past its 1.5-degree warming threshold. The report warns our political leaders that they must act now if there is to be any hope of preventing the worst effects of climate change.
In this context, city council debated at Tuesday’s meeting whether or not to end the almost $5 million subsidy it gives to the airport. Council was given the opportunity to end a fossil fuel subsidy today, to act now before it’s too late. Here’s how UN secretary general António Guterres described the urgency after the IPCC’s release: “This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe. Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.”
This is the global context for today’s council debate. The UN secretary general put out a message urging politicians to be bold, proactive leaders in climate change. Halifax’s city councillors claim to be bold leaders in climate change. They told us they were when raising our taxes for HalifACT.
They bottled it.
In a 10-7 vote, council voted to subsidize the HalifACT-exempt fossil-fuel-burning Halifax International Airport to the tune of $4.8 million.
The rest of the debates at council were less exiting. Most of the excitement in the afternoon came from an in-camera scheduling surprise and a power outage. The public hearing for density bonusing outside of the regional centrer scheduled for 6pm will be covered in a later story due to the previously mentioned scheduling surprise and power outage
Here’s what else happened at council before it all got a bit chaotic.
Things that passed:
Congratulations to Victoria Evans and Christopher Rennhan who were promoted to Planner II. These promotions were done in a classic military fashion. Vacancies up the chain of command means promotions go down the chain to fill those vacancies!
31 Lister Drive in Bedford is being put up for sale on the cheap. But the reason it’s going to sell or cheap is that it can only be sold to a non-profit organization that is going to build affordable housing on the land.
The city is asking the province to stop being dicks to the city’s unhoused population. The city is asking for a memorandum of understanding with the province. Essentially the HRM charter (written by the province) demands that the city inclues in its planning documents support for affordable housing, even though that’s a provincial responsibility. The trade is supposed to be that the city contributes to provincial policies and coffers, and in exchange, the province is supposed to contribute to the city’s policies and coffers. The city is contributing, and the province is not. So council asked the CAO to write a memorandum of understanding to the province, which is a formal request to enter into a legally binding agreement for the province to stop dicking the city around.
The city is spending $208,572 to figure out how to recruit skilled tradespeople and labourers. However, if wages aren’t high enough and there aren’t enough places to live in this city, then any industry-specific employment study may be too premature or too limited in scope to address this problem. We shall see, this report will come back “2023/24.” This, too, used to be something the province used to do. The city is focusing this first effort on the construction industry, because if there are no houses for workers to move into, it doesn’t really matter how many the city can recruit.
The city might stop subsidizing climate-annihilating air travel next year. This is the bottle job mentioned in the intro. City councillors had the opportunity today to formally announce their intentions to renegotiate the airport tax exemption agreement. They instead voted to defer putting a price on carbon. To clarify, this means the city gave the Halifax International Airport Authority a year’s notice that the city is thinking about giving it a year’s notice for re-negotiating the subsidy. Clear as mud?
Lake Banook Canoe Club needs and will get an additional $267,500 on top of the $10.9 million projected for the club's renovations. The city is giving a $250,000 grant and waiving $17,500 in fees.
The CAO will enter into an agreement with Homes for Independent Living (Nova Scotia) at 2505 Oxford Street. More details to follow as they become available.
And finally, deputy mayor Sam Austin asked the mayor Mike Savage to write a letter to the province begging the province to keep the warming shelter at 61 Dundas Street open.
The conversation around airport funding had one of the more infuriating debates. Councillors were essentially debating whether they wanted to save the planet, or subsidize killing the planet to support the economy. In most of council’s debates, the economy and the environment are not so directly in contest, but when it comes to climate change and flying the math of individual responsibility is stark. Every time you have flown for 12 hours, you, personally, have contributed 1 tonne in CO2 emissions (the math).
It’s frustrating again because councillors have also passed HalifACT (the airport itself is exempt from this tax), which is a climate emergency plan that comes with additional taxes we are expected to pay. We need an airport for a lot of practical reasons, but the airport does not *need* to be profitable. The Halifax International Airport Authority “is a locally controlled, non-share capital corporation” and it says that “as a community-based organization, all profits are reinvested back into the airport and the region.” Want to know a more efficient way of collecting excess money and reinvesting it back in to the region? Paying the $4.8 million in taxes. The whole point of government taxation is to reinvest the community’s money back into the community. That’s the government’s whole jam, and they are much better at it than the airport.
And on top of that, the volume of flights at Stanfield needs to be decreasing year over year if we are successful in our fight against this climate emergency. If we are successful, there will be fewer flights in the air. This is bad for the long term economic outlook of the airport industry,in much the same way the invention of cars was bad for the horse stable industry.
Council ultimately disagreed with their earlier selves about whether or not climate change is an emergency, voting to defer a decision on subsidizing the fossil fuel industry. Councillors may believe climate change is a serious issue, but 10 of them don’t believe it’s an urgent one.
Not even councillor Sam Austin, who a few short meetings ago urged council to think of climate change as a World War II level shift in society. On Tuesday the same Sam Austin voted *against* a World War II level shift in society. Behold the glory of Halifax’s bold climate leaders on full display.
Councillors Becky Kent, Lindell Smith, Shawn Cleary, Kathryn Morse, Patty Cuttell, Pam Lovelace and Lisa Blackburn did the right thing today.
Everyone else beefed it.