Council voted 5-2 in favour of deferring a vote on Coun. Steve Roddick’s climate change emergency declaration until September during a council meeting in Whitehorse on June 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file )

Whitehorse council defers vote on climate change declaration until September

The decision comes after a lengthy debate in front of a packed room

It will be months before the City of Whitehorse decides whether climate change warrants an emergency declaration after council voted 5-2 on June 24 to defer until September the motion put forward by Coun. Steve Roddick.

The city may also opt not to declare an emergency, but work on urging the federal government to take action along with pursuing its own initiatives on climate change — an amendment to Roddick’s motion that was proposed by Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu and also deferred.

Or come September, council may vote against both possibilities.

It may all depend on what comes out of an administrative report on the entire matter.

The proposals were referred back to city administration in a 5-2 vote at the meeting in order to look at the impacts on the city before a vote happens. Councillors Samson Hartland and Laura Cabott voted against the deferral.

Administration is set to bring a report back to council in September.

The decision came after a lengthy debate amongst council, first on Roddick’s call for a climate change emergency declaration. From that discussion came questions for city staff, Curteanu’s motion and ultimately the vote to defer.

Roddick had initially brought forward his motion June 10 with about half a dozen delegates then showing up to council’s June 17 meeting and calling for the declaration. Many of those delegates were among the standing-room only crowd which filled council chambers June 24 when council was scheduled to vote on the declaration.

Following the June 24 meeting, Roddick told reporters he’s disappointed the declaration is getting caught up in procedure, pointing out he had talked with his council colleagues before formally bringing it forward, wording the motion based on those discussions.

The motion was designed to be allow the city to be flexible in addressing climate change.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” Roddick said.

It would declare a climate change emergency, and outline how to address it.

Administration would be “directed to enhance” the city’s response to the impacts of climate change with the establishment of an internal task force focused on climate change adaptation, and identify actions that would accelerate the implementation of existing climate plans.

In an effort to be more energy efficient and cut down on carbon emissions, city staff would include a “carbon budget” identifying emissions coming from capital projects and purchases. With the Yukon government and local business community, city staff would also look at what can be done collaboratively through the upcoming Yukon Climate Change, Energy and Green Economy Strategy.

Those initiatives had Coun. Dan Boyd questioning exactly what that would mean for city resources, both financially and in terms of staff workload given staffing issues the city is already dealing with.

“We don’t know what we’re asking of administration,” he said, after questioning city manager Linda Rapp about how long it would take staff to come back with a report on the impact of the initiatives.

Work would begin with managers first looking at their individual departments, with that information then working its way up the ladder to be looked at by directors for the overall impact on the city, Rapp said.

Given that staff are starting work to look at next year’s budget and many have vacations booked over the summer, it could take more than a month for the information to be pulled together. With council taking its summer break after the Aug. 5 meeting and not meeting again until Sept. 3, Boyd proposed administration bring forward a report in September.

Though clear in his disappointment, Roddick said if referring it to administration provides the clarity needed for action to happen, then the wait will be worth it. He said he’s hopeful the referral is not just a delay that would see the motion defeated.

He did note he is “encouraged” by the interest all council members expressed in taking action on climate change, even those who spoke out against the declaration itself.

Mayor Dan Curtis as well as councillors Samson Hartland and Jocelyn Curteanu said they were not in favour of an emergency declaration, highlighting efforts already underway by the city to address climate change, pointing to potential budget impacts and highlighting the larger role the federal government could play in climate change mitigation.

Using the word emergency was also an issue for Curteanu.

“I think of an emergency as an event that happens suddenly, quickly, and often unexpectedly; that is immediately and extensively destructive, seriously endangering lives and/or properties,” she said, adding though there is no question climate change remains critical issue that requires action.

Her motion largely called for work by the federal government with other countries on climate change and outlined actions the city could take, including incorporating environmental stewardship into its operations as well as encouraging individual residents to do their part as well.

Other council members; however, said they had not had time to review Curteanu’s motion as she had only informed her colleagues of the amendment just minutes before the meeting. Curteanu explained she had been researching the climate change issue and was working on the amendment up until the council meeting.

Councillors Laura Cabott and Jan Stick, meanwhile, vocalized their support for Roddick’s motion early in the discussion, both stating the city is already taking action through building efficiency, transit improvements and so on, but more can be done.

“We are being asked and we are being urged to do more,” Cabott said.

She pointed out more than 600 communities around the world — 40 of those in Canada — have declared a climate change emergency in light of the situation.

“The city does have a role to play,” Stick said, pointing out climate change has a direct impact on infrastructure and thus on city services.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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