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Climate change measures should be a regional responsibility, says mayor


The town's climate change ambitions seem to be fizzling out.

A bold plan to help homeowners retrofit their homes and cut their greenhouse gas emissions was officially abandoned at a town council meeting Tuesday night.

But while that program was deemed too expensive and risky, town staff laid out a plan to publicize the need for homeowners to replace polluting natural gas furnaces with electric-powered heat pumps.

Read more: How you heat and cool your home may be your biggest contribution to climate change

The town would pivot to an education role, helping residents understand their heating and cooling options and how they could earn a rebate through the federal government's Greener Homes program.

Three hours of discussion ensued, with delegates, councillors and staff commenting on how the town's resources could be used to encourage people to reduce their carbon footprint.

But moments before the meeting ended, an announcement by Mayor Rob Burton threw all those planned actions into doubt.

He said he had met with the three other mayors in Halton, and they are all in favour of having climate change issues managed at the regional level rather than by each of the four local municipalities.

Burton said this would avoid duplication, so mayors are urging regional councillors to adopt this approach.

He even predicted the vote to shift climate change responsibilities to the region would be unanimous.

"When the region presents its strategic plan to Halton council for approval, I expect to see a proposed regional assumption of climate change measures for all four local municipalities," he said in a subsequent text to Oakville News.

"If it's not in the strategic plan, a motion and debate to do so will ensue."

That plan is to be considered by regional council in July.

Unclear future for community climate change initiatives

It's unclear what the shift to regional control might mean for the future of Oakville's community energy strategy, which had sought to cut town-wide emissions by 50 per cent by 2041.

But the move isn't likely to speed up badly needed concrete action, says Hart Jansson of Halton Action for Climate Emergency Now (HACEN).

"I would be shocked if there weren't further delays while the region and municipalities figure out how to aggregate the individual municipal pieces now in motion," he said.

Regional control may also doom Future Energy Oakville (FEO), the struggling organization set up to implement the community energy strategy.

Founded with $250,000 of town money, the independent company has been unsuccessful in attracting significant private sector support to build its operations.

Ward 4 councillor Peter Longo, who sits as a member of the FEO board, might have been able to shed some light on that question, but he didn't attend Tuesday's council meeting.