- by Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

Days after the Climate Action Team (CAT) Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound recognized young people who spoke up at Owen Sound City Council asking for climate action, the only proposed action is back on the table.

Early in Monday's council meeting there was a public meeting on the proposed 2020 City budget, with no questions or comments from Owen Sound residents. Council later voted to approve the budget which included the salary for a full-time Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Co-ordinator (CCC).

Councillor Koepke proposed a motion for the next regular meeting of council, February 10, as follows: “That City Council delay item 2 of resolution # R200113—006 concerning the hiring of a Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Co-ordinator City of Owen Sound pending a better understanding of this full-time position as it relates to the strategic goals set by the City under the pillar of environment and further investigation of potential shared services with surrounding municipalities and other alternatives.”

The 2015 Strategic Plan to which Councillor Koepke refers is scheduled to be reviewed this summer, and a consultant has been hired for that process.

Koepke also requested that the job description of the Climate Change Co-ordinator, which had been made public at the Operations Committee, be specifically circulated to council members.

City Council only has one employee who is directly responsible to them – the City Manager. All others, including all new positions, are employees of the Corporation of the City of Owen Sound and neither their job descriptions nor hiring are subject to approval by council.

The local Climate Action Team did not ask for a staff position dedicated to this work, nor did any other group.

Two specific requests have been made - one of council for the declaration of a climate emergency, and one of the Operations Committee in January 2020 for the creation of a climate action task force with public representation. These were not recommended by staff and were not accepted at either the Operations Committee or City Council level. 

Unlike Owen Sound, our Grey County neighbours in Meaford, West Grey, Grey Highlands and Blue Mountains have each declared a climate crisis, and have environmental committees with public participation.

Following a deputation to city council by environmental researcher Dr. Sonja Ostertag and the young people pictured above on December 2, 2019, a motion made by Councillor Richard Thomas was passed unanimously, that “City Council requests that staff prepare a report detailing actions we might take to deal with climate change, including a suggested course of action detailing how we can meet United Nations emissions target of 45 percent reduction by 2030 and net zero by 2050”

This request appears to have been the impetus for the addition by staff of a Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Co-ordinator, a full time position for which $107,000 was allocated in the 2020 budget. When asked, City Manager Wayne Ritchie said current staff were “maxed out”.

That addition to the budget was approved by council at that meeting, and was included in the budget given final approval on January 27.

In his January 13 report , Ritchie said “Having a staff member with the academic training, work experience and dedicated time to assist the community at the beginning of these processes [2020 review of both the Official Plan and Strategic Plan] would be beneficial. This expertise on staff will allow Council and the public an understanding of where the City is currently, what are optimistic but achievable targets for where we want to be, what actions and policies may get us there, and how do we best measure the results. In short, it will give us the best path forward to achieve success.”

In both private and public meetings, Wayne Ritchie, Owen Sound's City Manager, has not supported the creation of any City body with public input specifically to work on climate action, but has spoken of the vital role he feels the Climate Change staff person will come to play in the work of the City of Owen Sound in planning for the future.

The Climate Action Team and its partners have continued to advocate for a task force to work with City staff and leverage community interest and expertise for climate action.