I don't know if the dog days of summer are a sufficient excuse, but all the major dailies failed to pick up on a cynical and hypocritical move passed by the Miller regime at the last council meet in July, tucked quietly inside the long-awaited amendments to the policy governing council members' individual expenses. As a former city council staffer with some time on my hands before grad school starts, I dropped by to check out the new carbon abatement initiatives. As an environmental studies major, I thought I would hear what the self-described green minds at city hall were up to, only to discover I had actually been insufficiently cynical about our city of Toronto's much vaunted environmental leadership credentials. My admittedly sour attitude was not sweetened by the convenient delay of this debate well into the humid depths of summer, when most sane people with time off are on a patio with a pitcher; I was slumped at city hall listening to bickering and sniping that passes for debate on Queen Street.
Some good news first: council approved a policy for members' expenses that is intended to curb some of the most egregious excesses such as councillors - especially downtowners like Kyle Rae and Pam McConnell - using the public kitty to travel to and from home in those fossil fuel burning cars better known as cabs. It seems the anti-car too-green-to-drive Miller clique believes that the imperative to reduce greenhouse gases lies with us, not them - presumably they are so damned important they warrant an exception, on our dime, even as the caps melt. This practise was particularly galling given the free councillor's TTC pass and the constant and hypocritical bleating about the environment that all politicians spout these days. But credit where it is due, this loophole has been closed and unless they are willing to pay their own way (out of a measly $100K salary) they'll be obliged to cram themselves on the rank and broken TTC like the plebes.
But one below-the-radar change in the expense policy council passed was less applause-worthy. In this era of peaking fuel supply, increasing costs, global warming and even the prospect of rationing over the next few years, they doubled - yes, doubled! - their personal travel budgets from $3500 to $7000 a year. And that doesn't include travel done on city business, such as Kyle Rae's two trips to Spain so far in 2008 aimed at, ahem, strengthening trade relations - not to mention China and Mexico. And we're just over halfway through 2008. Even in this era of heightened public concern over resource consumption (the Millerites never fail to greenwash their announcements with this spin) this went unchallenged.
There was no opposition to this carbon-heavy increase from the supposedly green Miller clique. Kyle Rae, in full self-serving form, was in support. More surprising was the lack of pick-up on the issue by former Greenpeacer Doug Perks from Parkdale, who declined to answer any of my inquiries either before or since that asked him to champion the issue and lead by example. Neither, of course, did the Mayor, fresh from articulating a green future to an assembled group of North American big city mayors.
Halfway through their terms, it's high time we starting getting to work on reform at council. We need some environmental integrity, sincerity, commitment to democratic representation and foresight on development and planning - not cynical greenwashing and laurels-resting. It's time to really clean house, and I know we can do it with a modicum of effort.