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Designed by Polly Ko

Municipal Election Countdown
Green candidates gaining advantage

by Anne Marie Aikins
Nova Res Urbis
Nov. 8, 2006

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With less than a week before voters in this municipal election go to the polls, a number of races in the Greater Toronto Area are growing increasingly hot. Some of that hot air, however, has been blamed on the effects of global warming and the public's increasing awareness of the impact of climate change, which has spilled over onto the election agenda. Many predict that candidates, who have not embraced the whole notion of environmental responsibility, think perhaps Durham Region, have done so at their own potential demise on election day.

At the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto this week, candidates for municipal councils throughout the GTA gathered to sign on to the "Green Agenda Pledge." Billed as the "green divas" for council, the event was co-chaired by environmental lawyer David Donnelly (Gilbert's LLP), who was quick to add "guys" were included as well, and Markham councillor Erin Shapero, who has championed a number of green causes throughout her political career. They asked candidates to promise to vote against shrinking the greenbelt boundary, to refuse developer contributions and work to create green development standards in their municipalities.

"Urban sprawl and low-density sub-divisions have transformed post-war southern Ontario from a community of front porches to an endless horizon of driveways," said Donnelly. "That is why campaign finance reform is badly needed to limit the amount of money and influence that big land developers are having on local elections."

"Municipal governments are now on the front-line in the battle to have an environmental sustainable future," he said. "I hope the green agenda will help create a network of candidates that motivates people, who share our environmental values, to vote," he said.

The green agenda first got its boost earlier in the year when a York University study of the 2003-municipal election found that more than 90 per cent of the contributions of $100 or more in the GTA came from corporations-mostly from developers.

Although the room was overflowing with green champions of all political persuasions, including environmental commissioner Gord Miller, there was no consensus about whether donations from developers should be accepted or not. "I accept donations from anyone or any group," who has a long history of championing environmental causes, Richmond Hill councillor Elio Di Iorio told NRU.

"I've never hidden my green policies-if a developer wants to contribute to my campaign and work with me, then that means they must want to work with my green agenda. And that's a good thing."

At the Toronto event to sign onto the pledge was Vaughan council candidate Deb Schulte (Boyd Park), Richmond Hill candidate Natalie Helferty (saved the salamander on the Oak Ridges Moraine), Pickering candidate Bonnie Littley (won fight for Duffins-Rouge Agricultural Preserve), Oro-Medonte candidate Mary O'Farrell-Bowers (Moon Point champion), and Clarington candidate Linda Gasser (greenbelt fighter). Ajax mayor Steve Parish was there as well, along with a number of Toronto candidates, including former Toronto Environmental Alliance staffer Gord Perks.

In Durham where the battle lines have been drawn along green lines this election, a coalition of groups including the Sierra Club of Canada, Ontario Smart Growth Network, and Ontario Greenbelt Alliance, has asked candidates to sign on to the green agenda pledge. To date, Littley, Jurgen Degen, Eileen Higdon and Lisa DePass from Pickering; Parish, Al Williams, Colleen Jordan, Errol Massiah, Renrick Ashby, Joanne Dies and Pat Brown from Ajax; John Henry and Bruce Smith from Oshawa; and Gasser from Clarington have signed the pledge in Durham.

"We want to help save the areas in Pickering and south Durham that connect Lake Ontario to the provincially-protected areas of the greenbelt and the Oak Ridges Moraine," said Sierra regional representative David Kempton. "These areas are under threat of development for housing, industry and an international airport."

"It is very exciting to see so many young women with a keen awareness of the environment taking an interest in local government," environmental commissioner Miller told NRU.

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