As voters and taxpayers, we all have an interest in what our federal and provincial governments are doing to tackle climate change. Climate organizations across Canada are bringing together skilled individuals to build political support for climate action, and sometimes even going into the streets to ensure politicians and fellow citizens know how important it is to fight for a livable planet.
Spotlight On: Michelle Tom, Lilly Noble and Stop Sprawl Hamilton Ontario
Ontario has a sprawl problem. Not only is Doug Ford’s provincial government requiring cities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe to open up land on their outskirts to accommodate sprawl, but many municipal governments seem content to keep creating outdated, car-dependent suburbs.
Just look at Ottawa. Though not in the Greater Golden Horseshoe, its council still decided to expand the urban boundary despite public concerns. A study that the city of Ottawa actually commissioned showed that the city pays $465/person per year to cover the cost of sprawl.
Sprawl in Ontario has been compared to Alberta’s tar sands. So how do we stop it?
Luckily the folks at Stop Sprawl HamOnt have some answers.
Michelle Tom, a Hamiltonian, has been an activist with Grand(m)others Act to Save the Planet (GASP) for a few years now and has seen the fight over sprawl in Halton region.
“GASP…kind of has its roots in the Halton region and there, our local councillor was frustrated with the land use policy,” said Michelle.
In February 2021, that same councillor Jane Fogel put forward a motion to delay review of Halton’s Official Plan, because COVID-19 was impeding public consultation.
“I recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has negated our ability to gather but the Region’s OP has significant implications to our already dwindling farmland which we know, is integral to our food sustainability,” said Fogel.
“They unanimously said they were going to delay,” Michelle explained. “But now there’s some options in Halton around boundary expansion and that hasn’t been settled yet.”
GASP had been a key advocacy group pushing for the review delay.
“A couple of us thought, why don’t we take this to Hamilton?” said Michelle.
In Hamilton, the group wanted to see a delay in the Official Plan review similar to the Halton decision. GASP co-chairs sent letters to councillors around the region urging council to delay.
“One of the Hamilton councillors suggested they send a survey around to all citizens about the expansion. But when we saw it, there was no option of no boundary expansion,” said Michelle.
“So, we worked with our allies and we pushed through getting what we called Option 2 on the table. Luckily this councillor was willing to accept this friendly amendment.”
Lilly Noble, another GASP member joined Stop Sprawl, but was initially a bit skeptical that the survey wouldn’t have enough sway over the council’s decision.
“I thought ‘well, will the survey be enough?’” she said.
The group decided they needed to do some serious lobbying to get the survey on people’s minds.
“One of the things we learned is that you can do tons on social media, but you miss a lot of people,” said Lilly.
“So, I think Michelle got that good idea from the Stop 413 group, which was to design lawn signs. We ended up buying 1,600 and made sure to map them on a Google map. It was great tool to show councillors that ‘these are the people who have signs, they aren’t all in one spot, they’re in your ward,’ it’s good to keep visuals in mind if you want to convince people you’re not just a little group.”
“We were humble enough to learn from our allies like the Wellington Water Watchers,” said Michelle. The Watchers helped Stop Sprawl raise 30k for the survey push.
“We used tech, visuals, social media, lawn signs, we did podcasts with people, connected with local and national media, and we have a couple of in-person rallies. We invited a cross-section of people from academics, to leading health experts in the region, to people from all walks of life,” said Michelle. This was a group of activists with diverse professional backgrounds all coming together to take meaningful action in their community.
Thanks for their lobbying efforts, on the ground engagement with Hamiltonians, and to the councillor who championed Option 2, the urban boundary survey received 18k responses.
Of those responses, 90% opted for no urban boundary expansion.
On November 19th , city council held its meeting to decide on whether to expand the urban boundary or not. The meeting went from 9:30am to 7:30pm.
By the end, 13 councillors voted no to an urban boundary expansion.
“Our goals were to raise 30k for the campaign, and we raised 47k in total. We wanted eight councillors to vote with us, we got 13. We hoped for 10k people to participate in the survey, we got 18k,” said Michelle.
“So, on all three points we all thought they were sky high goals and we surpassed all of them. We created a broad tent and we pushed aggressively.”
Stop Sprawl is still on a mission to densify Hamilton and has pivoted to focus on housing issues.
“We want to the city to write a report to encourage Ontario to support zoning that allows for walkable, affordable and inclusive neighbourhoods,” said Lilly. “That kind of zoning can create more homes in the city and they can be more affordable.”
You can check out great organizing tips from Stop Sprawl Hamilton Ontario here, and fight sprawl in your city.
Stop Sprawl in your city with Stop Sprawl Hamilton Ontario
- Find a councillor who will champion your cause
- Collaborate with other groups to get your message out!
- Use a variety of campaign tactics. Social media can only go so far!
It can take a lot of time and energy to lobby for government action on climate change. Many of our network members work hard to keep governments on track for achieving Canada’s climate change targets.
- Do you live in Ottawa? You can join Citizens’s Climate Lobby’s Ottawa monthly chapter meeting on Zoom. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for the next meeting time.
- All levels of government have public consultations that citizens can spend some time filling out to help identify priorities and issues. Ontario’s public consultation directory can be found here, and the federal government’s public consultations can be found here.
- Live in Peterborough and looking to apply your skills to climate action? For Our Grandchildren has been dedicated to making climate change a priority at the municipal level. Sign up to volunteer!
- Transition Cornwall+’s Active Transportation Working Group engages in partnership building with the city and advocacy around better bike and pedestrian policies. In fact, they and other groups have proven to be so effective in their work that Cornwall has won a SILVER Bicycle Friendly Community Award from the Share The Road cycling coalition and the Canadian Automobile Association. The power of municipal activism!