Opinion by Gord Ball – Special to SUNonline/Orillia
Three former Citizens of the Year weigh in with their priorities for the incoming City Council. They have ideas about what should be high and early on the agenda of elected officials in the upcoming term. Past Citizens of the Year Marci Csumrik, (2021), Michael Gordon (2018), and Bruce Waite (2011), were each invited by Sustainable Orillia to share their hopes for the new City Council.
Local realtor Marci Csumrik hopes the incoming council will take climate change seriously. She hopes to see many more vehicle charging stations in Orillia – sooner rather than later. “We need those for sure – that’s the way of the future.”
“It’s really important that Council realize that money must be allocated towards climate change initiatives – money from all levels of government,” says Csumrik. “I hope to see the new City Council lobbying the federal and provincial governments for more support. For example, under the new provincial housing policy, municipalities will not be able to collect development fees. They’re going to have even less money if they can’t charge development fees.”
“I see how our climate has changed so drastically,” she says. She sees some encouraging co-operation between local farms and local restaurants, along with their support for The Sharing Place and the Orillia Youth Centre. She hopes more local businesses in town will join the effort to support local sustainability efforts.
The climate is also on the mind of Michael Gordon, long-time chair of the Orillia Community Foundation (annually granting nearly half a million dollars to local charities) and project manager of St. Paul’s Centre’s recent $1.2 million capital campaign.
While Gordon celebrates the accomplishments of the previous Council, he is looking in particular for two actions from the incoming Council. “First is the City’s climate action plan, Orillia’s Climate Future.”
“It’s a terrific document. I’d like to see the City work aggressively to reduce the corporate carbon footprint of their operations – in particular, an electrified city fleet from transit buses to works trucks, snowplows, leaf blowers, lawn mowers and trimmers. I’d like to see them use not a single drop of gasoline. The City has the ability to make these changes. It’s within areas they control – as well as retrofitting city buildings to make heating and cooling efficient. Those changes are also very visible. If they communicate what they’re doing and brand it, this will have a huge impact around Orillia.”
Secondly, Gordon wants to see more infill within city limits making a significant climate impact and also a valuable impact on the city. “Infilling the large chunks of vacant land in the city will reduce sprawl, create walkability, and add residential space. The City has the ability to create incentives encouraging those developers to build in energy efficiency,” says Gordon. “What’s most important is to get it done, using all the tools available to encourage developers to build in a world-class, environmentally thoughtful way.” Gordon is pleased that Sustainable Orillia is encouraging the waterfront land developer to build in a way that the community and the planet wants them to. “Even the buyers will want this,” he says. “It’s so much better than eating up valuable forest and farmland outside our city.”
“We’re not going to have net-zero by next year,” says 54-year city resident Bruce Waite, “but what elements of the City’s action plan can be implemented now?” The Orillia lawyer, who is active in several local organizations, said, “It’s critical that Council focus on those elements of the climate change action plan (Orillia’s Climate Future):
(1) where results are measurable within a time line,
(2) that are feasible within budget limits, and
(3) that contain actions to which citizens can contribute.”
Affordable housing was a frequent topic during the recent municipal campaign. “Any affordable housing projects undertaken should incorporate matters that move elements of the City’s action plan forward,” says Waite. Community support for these actions will be essential, he believes. “Citizens should be closely following what Council is doing and offer their input at every opportunity.”
Why is climate change action important to these citizens? “Climate change is real, and I have grandchildren,” said Csumrik. “We need to bring this issue to the forefront.”
“I have children. And I see the despair in the eyes of some youth. They’re disheartened. They’re aware – they know what’s going on and they fear for their future. We owe it to them to give them something better to hope for,” said Gordon.
“Because climate action can’t be delayed any longer,” said Waite.
(Photos Submitted) Main: Former Orillia Citizens Of The Year Marci Csumrik, Bruce Waite and Michael Gordon.