Toronto's four mayoral candidates say they would tackle climate change through transit policies; and all four oppose Doug Ford's cancellation of Ontario's revenue-generating cap and trade program.

Voters across Ontario's 444 municipalities head to the polls on Monday Oct. 22 to elect a new local government. But, in Toronto, the election campaign was overshadowed by Premier Doug Ford's decision to halve Toronto city council, along with a dramatic series of legal decisions that came with it. There have been many policy matters at stake, ranging from affordable housing and transit to community safety.

We asked the candidates four questions about how they would fight climate change:

1. What plans do you have to mitigate the impacts of climate change in your municipality?
2. The summary for policymakers released by the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change two weeks ago predicted there are 12 years to contain global warming to a maximum of 1.5C or risk further extreme weather occurrences. Have you read the report? If yes, what are your thoughts about the report and its findings?
3. Do you agree with Doug Ford's decision to cancel the cap and trade program in Ontario? Please explain why you do or don't agree.
4. If elected, how do you plan to work with Premier Doug Ford to tackle climate change?

All four mayoral candidates in Toronto responded with climate action plans that vowed to first address the city's transit issues.

Incumbent Toronto Mayor John Tory responded that under his leadership, the city had approved and funded Transform TO, which is a plan to meet the city's greenhouse gas reduction target of 80 per cent by 2050. Tory said the city had met its targets for 2020 and is on track for the next decade. He has also hired a chief resilience officer.

His plan focuses on "major transit investments" and focusing on "improving aging buildings in the city and developing low carbon thermal energy networks."

"These are the kinds of things that cities should be doing and can demonstrably tackle greenhouse gases that are produced by and in cities," he wrote in an email.

Jennifer Keesmaat, Toronto's former chief planner, now running for mayor against Tory, said the biggest issue for the city, as a result of climate change, was flooding. In her email response, Keesmaat said she would "change the way our city handles its storm water by building 100 km of green streets every year, and ramping up other green infrastructure projects like water-collecting gardens and re-naturalized waterways."

Like Tory, Keesmaat said she would continue fully funding and implementing the TransformTO Climate Action Plan, and invest in a transit network plan that reduce reliance on cars.

Toronto mayoral candidate Sarah Climenhaga wrote that city government needs to invest in more resilient infrastructure. Her plan to fight climate change includes strengthening sewage treatment, and pavements to deal with floods and ice storms. She also would expand tree planting and maintenance efforts and improve native greenery across the city by creating living walls, shrubs and vines.

In a phone conversation, mayoral hopeful and lawyer Saron Gebresellassi said that climate change has been "a blindspot" in both her campaign and the debates, noting that she hopes to hear from grassroots organizations, activists and experts on the best way to tackle it. Her plan to improve transit networks in the city would be one way to address the impact of climate change, she said. "Municipalities have a strong role to play in this issue," she said.

"I am disappointed it hasn't come up," Gebresellassi told National Observer, adding that she believe it indicates a major knowledge gap on society and indicates an opportunity for more conversation.

IPCC report concerns all candidates

Of the four Toronto mayoral candidates, only Keesmaat was clear that she had "read" the summaries put out by the IPCC, and called the report "a critical wake up call." As an urban planner, she said she wasn't surprised by the panel's findings.

"The report reconfirms that cities, as energy intensive centres, have a big role to play cutting emissions and containing the rise through greener, energy conserving buildings and infrastructure, and less energy-intensive transportation," she said in her email. "I'm deeply committed to building a city that does its part to reduce global warming."

Tory said the IPCC report was "deeply concerning and shows that we need more collective action to tackle climate change."

Neither Climenhaga nor Gebresellassi have read the summary of the report but they are unsurprised by its findings.

"The only thing that surprises me is that more people are not taking action," Climenhaga said. "I believe we need to dramatically redesign our economic system so that profit and environmental sustainability go hand in hand. We need to start valuing people not products."

All four candidates oppose Ford's cancellation of the cap and trade program

Ford's cancellation of the former Liberal government's policy of participation in a cap and trade market with Quebec and California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has been a controversial decision across the province, including in its biggest city.

Keesmaat said she disagreed with Ford's cancellation of the cap and trade program, noting that it had reduced greenhouse gas emissions immediately and given the province a "head start" on developing a low-carbon economy and had generated revenue for energy conservation projects. "Cancelling the cap and trade program leaves Ontario standing still in the face of the climate change crisis that's charging straight at us," she wrote.

Climenhaga said "there is no evidence to show he has a better solution, or that a cap and trade program is harmful."

"If he were to offer an improved, evidence-based tool to limit emissions to supplant the cap and trade program I would be open to that. But until a better tool is available he should be continuing the program," she wrote.

Gebresellassi said that it was "not exactly alarming that our premier would go down that road," adding that the decision was "regressive."

Tory agreed. "I think that decision poses a lot of questions for how the Province plans to tackle climate change," he wrote. "There are other ways that the government can support climate change efforts, including continuing to fund transit, and I look forward to seeing how they plan to do so."

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