Trevor Hancock: One-planet questions for candidates

During the 1993 election that led to her ouster, former prime minister Kim Campbell reportedly commented that “an election is no time to discuss serious issues” — although she disputes that that is what she said or meant.

Be that as it may, it seems to me an election is exactly the right time to discuss serious issues.

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So as the Oct. 20 municipal elections loom, I suggest we should be asking all candidates about a very serious issue — in fact, in my view, the most serious challenge we face in the 21st century, both globally and locally: How do we make the changes that move us toward being a One-Planet Region?

By that, I mean a region with an ecological footprint per person equivalent to one planet’s worth of biocapacity and resources — our fair share — while maintaining a high quality of life and a high level of human and social development and well-being for all. No mean feat, when you consider this means a 70 to 80 per cent reduction in our footprint, but essential if we are to enable the coming generations to enjoy anything like the quality of life we enjoy.

As I have noted before, Jennie Moore at BCIT, working with Cora Hallsworth in Victoria, estimated the ecological footprint of Victoria and Saanich and found it is about two to three planets’ worth, which is probably true of the region as a whole. Clearly, this cannot continue for much longer. So my overall question would be: “What are your plans to reduce our ecological footprint, and how will you do so in a way that maintains a good quality of life for all?”

That is a pretty broad question, but it’s a place to start. When Moore and Hallsworth measured our footprint, they found the largest components were food production and consumption, our transportation system and the energy we use for heating, cooling and electrical supply in our buildings. So I asked local experts in these three areas what they would ask our candidates across Greater Victoria.

Our food consumption is responsible for about half of our footprint, so I turned to Linda Geggie, who is with the Good Food Network and is the executive director of the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable. Her question is rooted in the fact that each of the municipalities has a food sustainability policy of some sort, while the Capital Regional District has adopted a regional food and agriculture strategy. She asks: “If elected, what will you do to create more healthy, equitable and sustainable food systems in your municipality and in the region?”

Given that almost three-quarters of our food footprint is due to our consumption of animal products (fish, eggs and dairy, and — especially — meat), I would also want to know how candidates think municipalities can support the shift to a low-meat diet, perhaps though their purchasing policies.

Just over a quarter of our footprint is due to transportation, with about two-thirds of that attributable to private-vehicle use. So I asked Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute what he would ask and he said: “What will you do to ensure anyone that wants to find, regardless of income or ability, suitable housing in a walkable neighbourhood?” This is because solid research indicates that people living in such neighbourhoods spend less money on transportation and are more active and healthier. In addition, our ecological footprint would be markedly reduced.

The third major component of our footprint, about one-sixth, is the energy we use for operating our buildings. For a question on this topic, I sought out Tom Hackney, policy adviser for the B.C. Sustainable Energy Association. He would ask candidates: “Whether they agree it should be a priority to achieve a zero greenhouse-gas emissions standard for buildings, and if so, what steps would they take in the next four years to further that goal for both existing and new buildings?”

These are wide-ranging questions, but given the significance of the challenges we face, they are the sort of issues we should expect our future municipal leaders to be paying attention to.

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.

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