Browsing the blog archives for March, 2011.

No Bottom Line for the South March Highlands

Legislative Gaps, South March Highlands

The City of Ottawa is slowly moving towards a sustainability mindset. According to its Director for Community Sustainability, the City is considering wider application of so-called “Triple Bottom Line” decision-making.

Sustainability

Classical decision-making in the previous century viewed the economy in isolation of the rest of society and in a context that ignored the environment. As illustrated below, interrelationships between these 3 dimensions were rarely considered.  Limited consideration was given to overlaps between 2 of these dimensions and even more rare was a sustainability mindset in which all 3 were included.

Sustainability thinking is based on traditional North American Indian philosophy that situates the person within the environment and views the ecosystem around the person as a great circle encompassing both animal life as well as the different communities of man.  This philosophy is traditionally symbolized by a Medicine Wheel as illustrated below.

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TBL

The Triple Bottom Line (TBL) is a term coined by John Elkington in his 1998 book Cannibals with Forks: the Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business. TBL is a concept that similarly situates economic decision making within a societal context, which in turn is situated within an environmental context.

A sustainable mindset acknowledges that our society exists within the environment and not independent from it. Similarly, our business decisions exist within the society that defines the economics for them.

Consequently we need to consider intangible value as well as tangible value in making sustainable decisions.  This is illustrated below:

Considering the intangible helps avoid the trap of McNamara’s Fallacy, however, it is still possible for businesses and governments to fall into the fallacy by relying only on measurable indicators when performing a TBL analysis.

An example of falling into the trap can be seen in the Australian Government’s TBL analysis of 135 sectors of the Australian economy.  Notice the reliance of only measurable indicators when assessing intangible factors — a classic symptom of falling prey to McNamara’s Fallacy.

Ottawa's 4BL

With the caveat to be wary of McNamara’s Fallacy, TBL is certainly a step in the right direction towards sustainable decision-making.

Curiously the use of TBL in a municipal setting involves consideration of 4 (not 3) dimensions (4BL):

  1. Economic
  2. Environmental
  3. Social
  4. Cultural

The addition of a cultural dimension extends the influence of social factors.  The rationale for this is tenuous and appears to have originated in New Zealand.  In Canada, the concept seems to be gaining favour among various municipalities, including Ottawa.

According to the authors of the 4BL model, it was attractive to incorporate the 4 directions of the traditional medicine wheel as an aspect of their sustainability framework.  Evidently, there is much to be learned about sustainability from First Nations – even when it comes to creating a model for thinking about it in a holistic way.

Unfortunately, in the 4BL case this has been done in a way that hi-jacks traditional values and re-casts them in a way that inserts “money” at the expense of wildlife.  This recurring type of hi-jacking and revision of native symbols and philosophy is one of the causes of cultural genocide – and in this case is being done in the name of promoting culture!

Rather than re-invent a tried-and-true concept that has served First Nations well for thousands of years, perhaps it would have been better to centre the concept entirely on traditional concepts of stewardship and respect for Mother Earth.

As an example, a direct application of traditional values by the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation results in a rather sensible Principles of Development.

NBL for SMH

Unfortunately the City is not even close to applying TBL or 4BL criteria to the South March Highlands:

  • Neither Council or Staff took the opportunity to explore the economic benefits of green infrastructure and the Stewardship plan that was prepared as an alternative – even though it would have generated $25 M /annum in economic benefits to the city;
  • Continued development in the SMH is an environmental disaster that no one denies – yet no one at city hall does anything to prevent. Compounded by the continued wilful blindness to environmental problems caused by SWM piecemealing, water diversion, fragmentation of habitat, and extirpation of 20 species-at-risk.
  • At a social level, every community association in Ottawa endorsed protection for the SMH – yet the infrastructure staff plows forward in the face of opposition from 15,000 people.
  • The complete disrespect for the cultural heritage of first nations in the SMH is shameful. The refusal to accommodate even a reasonable request for an unbiased archaeological study is indefensible and a violation of the Canadian constitution.

Clearly there is no bottom line thinking (NBL) in the City at all when it comes to the South March Highlands.

Although Ottawa is starting to move in the right direction with sustainability thinking, it will take much more than the creation of a quad-focal “lens” and the self-congratulation that will no doubt accompany the City’s self-assessment process to implement a sustainability mindset in Ottawa.

Growing Gaps

Completely missing from the City’s implementation approach is ensuring that there is an opportunity for public participation in ALL key decisions affecting Environment, Social, and Economic dimensions.

Instead of closing this gap, the lack of acceptance of public review as an integral part of sustainable decision-making appears to be growing.  Some recent examples of a growing gap include:

  • Refusal by the City to make public review a part of any future lifting of holding conditions for lands formerly zoned as environmentally significant in the SMH;
  • Failure by City staff to bring final EAs and EA Addendum to City committees for public review and Council approval prior to issuing of Notices of Completion.  This has occurred recently for Kanata West and for the Glen Cairn Flood Investigation.
  • Issuing key technical documents less than 3 days prior to a City committee vote on the subject so as to curtail any opportunity for public review.  This occurred recently on the decision to allow a municipal drain to be constructed in the provincially significant Poole Creek Wetlands in Stittsville.

Talk and intentions are cheap and meaningless without changing how the City operates.  Not only is the current non-sustainable mindset entrenched, it appears to be  incorrigible.

As a case in point, the infrastructure approvals staff actually declared that they considered it necessary to raze Beaver Pond Forest in Kanata, just so that they could understand where the watershed boundary was!  Evidently it was not possible for them to see the watershed for the trees.

Changing how the City operates will require deep changes to management within the infrastructure approvals division.   Otherwise using the words sustainability and development in the same sentence in Ottawa will continue to be an oxymoron.

Time to walk the talk by doing the right thing!

So far Mayor Watson has done nothing to improve the situation and in fact has made matters worse by not promoting public participation as a fundamental pre-condition for sustainable development in Ottawa.

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Is This Quality Decision-Making?

South March Highlands

Open Message to Mayor Watson and City Council,

Attached is a copy of a letter hand-delivered to Minister Chan as well as to the press gallery at Queen’s Park.  The provincial leader of the NDP rose in the Ontario Legislature to call attention to it.

As you read this letter, ask yourself whether this is indicative of the quality of decision making that the people of Ottawa expect from all of you.  On what expert authority is the decision to ignore important archaeological potential being based?

  • It isn’t the expertise of licensed archaeologists – the city has NONE on staff and none were contracted by the city to review the situation.  The two licensed experts who did review the new evidence have called for a new study.
  • It isn’t the Ministry of Tourism and Culture who have clearly stated that they only review reports presented to them and that they have downloaded the approval authority to the city when it comes to requiring new studies.  Only the City as the approval authority, or the Minister of Culture acting on an emergency basis, can order that a new study be done.
  • It isn’t the City Council’s advisory committee on Arts and Heritage that has unanimously recommended that a new study be done.
  • It isn’t the people whose direct heritage is being ignored.  ALL the Algonquin First Nations on both sides of the Ottawa River have expressed their concern and requested that a new review be done.  Furthermore the City Council’s new advisory subcommittee on Aboriginal Affairs has also unanimously recommended that a new study be done.

The answer according to the Mayor is that the decision has been made by a non-professional archaeologist (J. Moser) based on a legal opinion city counsel (T. Marc) – neither of whom have any training or expertise in archaeology.  This is the same legal counsel who recently stood against public interest groups at an OMB hearing and challenged the affidavits presented by the public because they were submitted by non-professionals in the subjects being reviewed!

Is this the quality of decision making that City Council wants to rely on?  Decisions made by those apparently blind to their consequences because they are untrained to evaluate the information required to make the right decision?

The legal opinion only confirms that it is apparently legal in Ontario to embarrass the City and its leadership by relying on an out-dated study when it comes to development approvals.  Doesn’t say much for the quality of legislation used to protect cultural heritage.  It is equally legal to require that a new study be done at any time prior to registration of subdivision.

The City Council of Ottawa does not have to rely on a decision-making process that is blind to the facts.  Nor should Council allow the City to be embarrassed by decisions made by staff in such a flawed manner. 

With Fortitude,

Paul Renaud

South March Highlands – Carp River Conservation Inc.

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Sacred Fire at Queen’s Park

South March Highlands

We are gathered here in unity of common purpose and with a spirit that has a common Voice:

  • We speak on behalf of the Great Forest that cannot speak for herself.
  • We speak for the Life in that Forest and for all the Lives that are touched by it.
  • We speak for the South March Highlands and all the Forests like her across Ontario and across Canada.

When people form coalitions so that they can speak louder it is a sign that their government isn’t listening.

When people take their government to court it is a sign that their right to fair government was violated.

When people take to the streets in protest it is a sign that their government is failing them.

  • We have done all of these things and yet still the Forest cries in pain because the government does nothing.
  • How is it possible for any responsible government to knowingly allow the destruction of the most bio-diverse area in their city and in their National Capital?

The true measure of a Leader is how they react to something that is so obviously wrong.

  • Do they hide behind the mistakes of others, or do they assume responsibility?
  • Do they pass the buck, or do they work to resolve the wrong?
  • Do they have the vision to work towards a better outcome?

These are the questions that we ask the Government of Ontario today.

But we must also challenge ourselves too because our governments are just a reflection of ourselves.

The true measure of a Person is taken when they are confronted with something that is so obviously wrong.

The wrong that is being perpetuated in the South March Highlands causes us to question our very relationship with the Land.

  • Do we care about Mother Earth and our relationship with the environment?
  • Do we ignore what is going on, or do we speak out against it?
  • Do we allow the destruction to occur, or do we work to prevent it?

We speak not only for this Great Forest, but also for the new Voice of Canada.

  • A voice that says that the protection and preservation of native heritage is important because the First Canadians can teach us many things about this Land.
  • A voice that says that we too are an integral part of this natural ecosystem.  We do not walk on it, we exist within it and we are only alive because of it.
  • A voice that says that our society must return to a “sustainable relationship” with all living beings – regardless of colour, creed, and culture, and with respect for all species of life.
  • A voice that says that greed is no substitute for responsibility.
  • A voice that says Leadership means taking responsibility to resolve problems through meaningful consultation with ALL stakeholders.
  • A voice that cries out for Leadership to protect our wild heritage because it is that very heritage that defines us as Canadians.
  • A voice that says that we have lost too many great Forests and that it is now time to draw the line.

If we cannot save the South March Highlands,

  • a land with over 20 species-at-risk in it,
  • a land that contains immense cultural heritage,
  • a land that is integral to the ecology of our National Capital,
  • a land that is Sacred to the descendants of the Anishinabe people,

what Hope is there for any other forest or natural place?

The time to act is NOW!

It’s NOT TOO LATE to DO THE RIGHT THING and we ask our Premier do the right thing!

Paul Renaud

Feb 13, 2011

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