Municipal elections may seem like small potatoes in the looming climate crisis, but their results significantly impact how people live day to day. A city with bike lanes, reliable public transportation, an urban forest and adequate garbage and recycling services can both reduce carbon emissions and give citizens the resources to become environmentalists.
At press time, of the 15 mayoral candidates Winnipeggers have to choose from on Oct. 26, only two have included detailed environmental policies in their platforms that go beyond vague promises to incentivize electric cars or simply plant more trees.
Glen Murray, Winnipeg’s mayor from 1998 to 2004, and Shaun Loney, Manitoba’s former director of energy policy, have strong environmental platforms and backgrounds championing clean energy.
One of Murray’s campaign priorities is for Winnipeg to become “Canada’s leading green, innovation economy.” This promise hinges mainly on his transit plan. Like many of Winnipeg’s mayoral candidates, Murray promises to switch to an electric bus system.
Winnipeg Transit buses currently account for about one per cent of the city’s greenhouse-gas emissions, while the percentage attributed to personal vehicles is much higher. Realistically, Winnipeg can only reduce its carbon footprint if more people ditch their cars in favour of functional transit systems.
Murray is also promising more frequent buses along 13 key transit routes. Under his plan, buses on these routes would arrive every 10 minutes, hopefully encouraging more Winnipeggers to catch the bus instead of driving. He intends to finish the Winnipeg Transit Master Plan in the next 13 years and establish walkable small-business clusters.
A former leadership candidate for the federal Green Party, Murray has a strong, detailed plan that targets Winnipeg’s reliance on personal vehicles. However, his campaign promises don’t yet mention protecting urban forests or implementing a formal compost system.
Loney has a robust plan for the city’s environmental policies that includes requiring new civic buildings to use solar panels. He has plans to establish a Winnipeg tree trust to “reverse the decline of Winnipeg’s urban forest,” which would help Winnipeggers keep their homes and streets cooler as temperatures rise.
Loney envisions Winnipeg as a city still dominated by cars – but of the electric variety. He’s promising 500 vehicle-charging stations and preferential parking spaces for electric vehicles (EVs).
Since EVs tend to be more expensive and Winnipeggers love a deal, I’m skeptical that either incentive would push people to buy an EV.
He’s also promising to accelerate the Winnipeg Transit Master Plan so that a majority is completed within 10 years instead of 25. Loney plans to introduce on-demand electric vans that would act as publicly funded rideshare services. Think Transit on Request but electric.
Loney’s plan would definitely make Winnipeg a greener city. But with so many promises, a cynic has to wonder what would be prioritized and what would be left on the back burner.
Winnipeg has a long way to go to become a greener city, but electing candidates committed to the environment could be a step in the right direction.
Published in Volume 77, Number 03 of The Uniter (September 22, 2022)