Changes to Toronto’s municipal budget indicate a more aggressive approach to reducing emissions

by sarah mctaddon

Two current draft municipal budget documents reveal major revisions to Toronto’s $140.4 billion municipal operations budget for the 2020 fiscal year, with new funds earmarked for electric vehicle incentives and other “forward-looking measures.”

But this doesn’t mean the city is throwing in the towel on its ambitious emissions reduction targets, nor does it mean it is ditching plans to address climate change, city staff said in a memo to Mayor John Tory and city councillors on Dec. 17.

“It’s a few small suggestions within the money they’ve budgeted,” says Brian Hartley, the city’s spokesperson for sustainability. “We don’t want to water down the very, very important emissions reduction work that we are doing here.”

Still, the moves make it clear that the city is exploring options for more ambitious policy changes that could include levying a greenhouse gas emission tax or developing a market for emissions-offset credits, despite the weak economic outlook in the city.

But there are no firm proposals yet, Hartley added.

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The staff proposal includes changes to the $45.7 million projected budgeted for “greening vehicles” aimed at helping residents pay for electric and hybrid vehicles through the city’s Low Carbon Credit, Rechargeable Vehicle and Electric Vehicle Rebate Program, among other mechanisms.

The memo says such incentives could be on the way because Toronto’s current electric vehicle rebates program under-performs. The city received $68 million in rebates in the 2016 fiscal year. But only $4.7 million went toward reducing GHG emissions, the memo says.

“Given the financial restraints, and the likely reduction in federal and provincial funding over the next several years, the City is looking at other funding options in order to mitigate the impact of a potential reduction in federal funding,” the memo says.

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The proposed changes would also increase the current $4 million budgeted for a London, Ont.-based consultancy called The Hill Canada to help cities cut emissions and boost their capacity to manage resources by using surveys, expertise and best practices from around the world.

The Hill Canada partnership is based on one the city previously struck with the Conrad Global Institute in 2013.

That grant awarded the city the low-interest, subsidized-loan-to-pay for up to 10 years, based on the value of emission-reduction efforts.

Even without the Hill Canada application, the city’s proposed financial plan includes an increase of $37.5 million from 2018 to 2020 for Carbon Right Management, a fund supported by an “environmental charge” on carbon produced.

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The Hill Canada application and the staffing of a consultant “would build further on this existing sustainability expertise” to accelerate and improve the city’s green initiatives in buildings, transportation, waste, energy and water, the memo says.

The city also would review its 100 percent electric vehicle goal, a goal that would be met by 2020 without any additional measures, the memo says.

The “possible mechanisms to achieve this aim” include levying an emissions tax or creating an “in kind” equivalent of such a tax.

The other elements of the proposed funding increases would come from programs aimed at reducing the city’s reliance on fossil fuels, including increasing investment in electricity grids.

However, there is no mention of changes to a planned employee bonus and overtime incentive to move toward energy-sustainable workplaces.

The suggestion to examine this policy change came in a memo from deputy budget chief Paul Eaton to Tory and other councillors who were recently briefed on the city’s 2019 operations budget that was approved in November.

The city is currently going through the final stages of tabling its draft 2019 operating budget on Dec. 19. It is to be released in early January.

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