Al Leach and a clash of cultures

Building Code

Here, in microcosm, I offer you the perfect example of what’s wrong with Al Leach’s megacity proposal, and why the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, himself, is not to be trusted.

First, let me remind you that the City of Toronto is one of the leading  cities in the world in the struggle against global warming. It was the world’s first city to commit itself to reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 20 per cent in response to a call from the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro five years ago.

As part of that commitment, it created the Toronto Atmospheric Fund in 1992 and endowed it with $23 million from the sale of the Langstaff Jail Farm. Since then, the fund has been financing all sorts of projects that reduce energy consumption.

In short, the City of Toronto is developing a culture that focuses on quality of life and is sympathetic to environmental issues. As part of that culture, city voters have elected politicians who’ve been innovative in addressing environmental concerns.

Now switch to Al Leach. He has announced plans to scrap energy-efficiency provisions of the Ontario building Code that would throw the province back to where it was in 1975.

Environmentally, the proposal is absolutely nutty. Energy efficiency increased by averages of 25 per cent in homes and 20 per cent in larger buildings erected under the provisions that Leach wants to scrap.

Leach maintains that what he’s interested in is « cost effectiveness for the consumer’’ — lowering the purchase price of new buildings.

(The irony is that scrapping energy efficiency is not at all cost effective. Leach’s arithmetic is awful. Over time, consumers will pay more for heating than they will save in their purchase prices, to say nothing of the added costs of the damage from increased CO2 emissions.)

The lesson in this for Torontonians is that Leach represents a different culture. He operates on a different set of values. It shows when he can barely utter a sentence without talking about cost savings and efficiencies. Quality of life does not figure large in his vocabulary.

So if you’re looking for quality of life improvements, don’t trust this man when he says a megacity will be good for Toronto.

But hold on a minute, you say. Even if the man’s values are out of step with where Toronto is going, might there not still be merit in a megacity? To answer that, ask yourself what attitudes are most valuable to you in the City of Toronto, and will they be reflected in a megacity council?

On environmental issues, I doubt that Toronto’s advanced attitudes would prevail in a megacity. I see no other Metro municipality that has made the kind of commitment to the environment that Toronto has made. Nor do I see on suburban councils the kind of determined opposition to Leach’s abandonment of energy efficiency that Toronto is showing.

Why would people in these municipalities elect representatives to a megacity council who are any different from those they elect now?

The City of Toronto pioneered energy efficiency for larger buildings (those of more than 540 square metres) by setting minimum standards in 1991. Until then, there were no standards.

Two years later, after the city had demonstrated how effective its standards could be, the province incorporated them into its code and the city vacated the field. At the same time, the province upgraded its standards for homes.

Leach’s proposal would mean a return to no minimum standards for larger buildings and 25 per cent lower standards for homes. He would, however, require labelling that would identify the energy efficiency of new buildings. His rationale is that this would give consumers freedom of choice.

His proposal invited response, and submissions will be considered in April by a technical committee that will forward its recommendations to him.

As far as I’m concerned, what the committee recommends is of secondary importance. The real attention should be on the clash of different cultures. That has even wider implications for the City of Toronto.

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