I've been following with considerable interest the local print media's reaction to the proposed by-law in the City of Greater Sudbury which would limit unnecessary vehicular idling to one minute. This by-law has been in the making now for over a year and a half. Earlier in January, the proposed by-law came forward for review and recommendation by the City's Operations Committee, where it was adopted unanimously, and forwarded to Council for approval.
In the interim, several stories regarding the proposed by-law appeared in the media, many of which did not fully report on the by-laws many exceptions, which outline circumstances where idling may be permitted due to necessity or because of legal issues. These stories generated a significant number of online comments, as well as follow-up letters to the editor of print media.
Ultimately, Greater Sudbury's municipal Council unanimously refused to endorse the proposed by-law, sending it back to its Operations Committee (never mind that 5 of our Councillors on the Operations Committee had just voted to endorse the by-law at committee level). Our Councillors claimed that they had heard from the public, and that changes to the by-law were needed.
In response to a story about Council's actions, on January 27, 2012, I composed and submitted the following letter to the editor of the Northern Life, a bi-weekly print newspaper. At this time, the letter remains unpublished by the Northern Life. However, upon further review, since the anti-idling by-law was recommended by Operations Committee, the Northern Life has chosen to print two very interesting letters from a Mr. Richard Pulsifer.
The first, "City penny wise and pound foolish" (published online, January 19, 2012), appears to be nothing more than a diatribe against Ward 11 Councillor Terry Kett, who is one of the 5 Councillors on the City's Operations Committee. Mr. Pulsifer's next "letter" (in quotations, because that's a pretty generous term for a two-sentence opinion) was published in both the Northern Life and the Sudbury Star earlier today (February 6, 2012). This link is to the Northern Life's website, where the "letter" was published under the headline, "Idling by-law should apply to politicking".
Now, whether you think a by-law which limits unnecessary idling is a good idea or not, a letter which amounts to nothing more than a personal attack on a member of our Council, and another letter which does nothing but add further hot air to a well-worn climate change cliche does little, even less than nothing, to further public discourse. Indeed, today's letter from Mr. Pulsifer, published by both major print news sources in Greater Sudbury, really belittles the sort of public conversation which the residents of our community should be having on a by-law which proposes to place limits on unnecessary idling.
This is not to suggest that the Sudbury Star or the Northern Life appear to be giving only one side to this story. On the contrary, both the Sudbury Star and the Northern Life have published letters in support of the proposed by-law (just not mine - but don't worry, my fragile ego isn't particularly bruised). My point today has more to do with how, through the publication of letters which belittle public discourse, such as Mr. Pulsifer's does, the print media can end up playing a negative role in the public discourse around a particular issue.
Given the importance of the conversations which should be taking place in our communities regarding issues which have real impacts on real people, it would be better, I think, for our print media to take these issues seriously. Letters such as Mr. Pulsifer's do little to assist with moving public discussions forward, and indeed, they more often act as impediments for people to speak out, lest their own ideas and opinions become the topics of public derision.
The debate about the idling by-law will continue to play itself out in Greater Sudbury over the next few weeks (and maybe longer, although I hope not). What our decision-makers need is informed opinion, not personal attacks on their integrity.
Here is the text of my unpublished letter to the Editor of the Northern Life:
Re: Council sends back idling by-law (January 26, 2012)
I was dismayed to see the proposed by-law to limit unnecessary idling in Greater Sudbury returned to the City’s Operations Committee by Council last week for further review. This by-law, recommended by the City’s Operations Committee for Council’s approval in early January, 2012, has been over a year and a half in the making. The by-law was to take effect on January 1, 2013, after an aggressive education campaign targetted for the latter half of 2012.
There is a clear and present need to limit the unnecessary idling of personal vehicles in our community. A report released by Statistics Canada in 2010 “Greenhouse gas emissions from private vehicles” indicated that Greater Sudbury is the second dirtiest city in all of Canada from a vehicle emissions perspective. The study found that personal vehicles in our city release a startling 2,844 kilograms of carbon dioxide for every resident. Greater Sudbury has quite a ways to go to match Canada's lowest per capita emitter, Montreal, where only 1,219 kilograms of CO2is released per person.
Along with environmental concerns, there are clear documented connections between vehicle exhaust emissions and negative effects on human health, particularly cardiovascular and respiratory effects. Children, pregnant women and elderly are groups that are especially at risk.
It’s well understood that we can not give up our dependence on personal vehicle use at this time, due to a lack of historic investment in other forms of transportation infrastructure. What we can do is to try to limit unnecessary emissions from our vehicles in order to improve Greater Sudbury’s air quality and reduce our climate-changing carbon emissions.
The by-law, modelled on a number of by-laws already in place in over 30 Ontario municipalities, would have allowed a number of sensible exemptions to the 1-minute idling restriction. Where these by-laws have been approved by municipal councils, there have been marked reductions in vehicle idling, due to an increased sense of public awareness.
It’s time for Greater Sudbury to get serious about air quality and climate change. Council needs to revisit this by-law immediately so as to meet the January 1, 2013 effective date recommended by the Operations Committee. We all need to acknowledge that we have a role to play in helping improve our community’s air quality. One way to accomplish that outcome is by sensibly limiting the unnecessary idling of our personal vehicles. Not only is limiting unnecessary idling good for our community’s health and the environment, it will save us money too.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views of the Green Party of Canada)
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