By Susanne Laperle – Special to SUNonline/Orillia
It is our pleasure to report our mayor, Don McIsaac, continues to be a strong advocate of sustainable actions in Orillia. Our interview was opportunity for him to reflect on the past year and to share his perspective on how we are doing as a community and how Sustainable Orillia is doing as an organization on our shared path to a sustainable future.
McIsaac kicked off the discussion with an overview of some of the long-term challenges and opportunities for Orillia, including growth and the potential expansion of the city borders. In the short to mid-term, McIsaac sees continuing growth and believes there is capacity to accommodate growth within our existing boundaries. He pointed to a number of infill opportunities across the city, but cautioned as Orillia grows, at some point there will be a need to expand the city’s boundaries. This longer-term challenge will likely be referenced as part of Orillia’s current Official Plan review. Growth is a challenge Orillia shares with many other communities in the province.
Looking back on his first full year in office, McIsaac believes good progress has been made on a number of fronts; however, he strongly emphasized the need to take more action and to take it further. Key among the measures implemented by the City in 2023 was the establishing and staffing of a climate action coordinator position to shepherd Orillia’s Climate Future, an investment to keeping our community climate change action plan front and centre as the tough work of implementing the plan’s recommendations begin.
A series of greenhouse gas audits were also completed this past year for the city’s stock of twelve buildings. Funded in part with grants from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, those audits identified where, and how much, retrofitting will be needed to reduce carbon emissions from those buildings. The audits directly support Big Move #3 – Housing, of Orillia’s Climate Future. Additionally, a second light-duty electric vehicle was added to the city’s fleet, plus another charging station. These initiatives will help reduce emissions, while additional water-filling stations installed around the city are removing more and more plastic bottles from our ecosystem.
The mayor also referenced the significant benefits realized from the Clear Garbage Bag Program introduced in February, 2022. After its first full year, there was a reduction of close to 40% in household waste picked up at the curb, with some concurrent but modest increases in both recyclables and organics. The strength of these results (which continue to track positively into Year 2 of the program) ultimately support a longer lifespan for the city’s waste diversion site. Equally important to McIsaac, this success reflects greater widespread efforts by Orillia citizens to reduce their garbage. In this regard, the mayor and his family walk the talk, guided by his wife, Cindi, about what goes where. The priorities of waste reduction and diversion are top-of-mind in the McIsaac household.
As mayor, McIsaac brings a longer-term view to how Orillia’s waste management and reduction may look in the future. He would like to see incentives for those households that are reducing their waste and is looking at ways the city can allocate collection tags to help make that happen. He is also interested in how waste is being effectively and sustainably disposed of in other parts of the world; in particular, where incineration has been successfully and cleanly implemented in a number of European locales. Does that have a future application for Orillia? is a question he believes worth exploring.
Last year, as part of a similar discussion, the Mayor identified three priorities for Sustainable Orillia’s consideration:
Ensuring council is kept informed on sustainability issues was, and continues to be, a top priority. As Council makes decisions that affect us all, McIsaac believes an informed exploration of sustainability effects is essential. He views Sustainable Orillia as one of the key community resources to ensure that such exploration happens. Sustainable Orillia deputations to council such as the recent presentation on alternative energy sources, provide good examples of how SO research can inform and add value supporting our climate action plan, Orillia’s Climate Future.
The ability to engage young people and provide them with practical knowledge of sustainability issues is another priority for McIsaac. Understandably, this comes with challenges because connecting with in-class or after-school programs at public schools is not easy post-pandemic. Finding venues and platforms, including social media, and leveraging them to reach and support younger people with our sustainable message will continue to be a priority for SO, which is a priority greatly helped by the work of our Sustainable Orillia Youth Council.
The mayor’s third priority, as was the case last year, is to Just Do It. McIsaac has a strong action orientation and is always exploring ways to get things done. Drawing on his experience over this past year, he shared several interesting examples of where simple things can be difficult and seemingly hard things can be easy. He encouraged all of us, and SO in particular, to keep finding opportunities to ‘just do it’.
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)