Ottawa Named A Low Carbon Cities Canada Urban Innovation Centre

This article was featured on the cover of the Fall 2019 edition of the PEN. It was written by PERC and OCF together.

How can Ottawa be the greenest capital city in the world? This is something the Hon.

Catherine McKenna in conversation with Rebecca Aird from the Ottawa Community Foundation and others after her announcement. Photo: PERC.

Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, has often talked about during her time in office. So it was fitting that she be the one to announce, on behalf of Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, the Hon. Amarjeet Sohi, on August 16, 2019, that the Ottawa Community Foundation (OCF) would receive $22 million to establish a Low Carbon Cities Canada local climate centre.

The government’s commitment to Low Carbon Cities Canada (LC3) was announced in the 2019 Federal budget, along with the cities identified to participate in the LC3 network: Halifax, Montréal, Ottawa, Toronto and Hamilton, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver. The core mandate of the centres is to overcome barriers to the update of emissions reduction solutions in their cities, while also supporting a vibrant local economy. The recent announcement revealed the size of the endowment that will be provided for the Ottawa centre.

The inspiration for LC3 came from The Atmospheric Fund (TAF – originally the Toronto Atmospheric Fund) WHICH WAS originally established through funding from the city, and has since received additional funding from the province and now the federal government.

As an “arm’s length” program administered by the City of Toronto, TAF has the freedom and flexibility to respond quickly to challenges and opportunities, and take risks that a municipal government simply wouldn’t be able to do. The results include successes like the first regional inventory of carbon emissions around Toronto, business ventures and innovative financing to fund energy-efficient retrofits, and a 16% drop in GHG emissions (below 1990 levels, in 2011) during a time when Canada’s emission levels rose 18%.

Perhaps most importantly, the money originally given to TAF was not a one-time infusion of cast, but an endowment that has been invested and so far resulted in the re-investment of over three times its original amount in sustainability initiatives in Toronto – a successful long-term strategy that can hopefully be replicated elsewhere.

The Ottawa Community Foundation (OCF)has been working with TAF and representatives from the other cities for the past two years, to build the case for LC3. Ottawa’S LC3 Centre will now be incubated by the OCF. Created by Ottawa residents in 1987, the OCF has a long history of funding projects that have made a real impact in communities across the region.

Early work to define the structure, mandate and some possible priority focus areas for the Ottawa Centre – which began almost 2 years ago – will feed into the next steps as the OCF works with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) to finalize legal agreements governing the fund. The Ottawa LC3 Centre’s activities will ultimately be determined by its own staff and advisors, but it is envisioned a partnership that will engage a broad range of players to ensure that the actions taken contribute significantly to local resilience and economic strength while reducing carbon emissions.

Once the formal funding agreement with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) is in place, the OCF looks forward to establishing Ottawa’s LC3 Centre. Informal conversations with various players in the Ottawa area, and across the country, have been a reminder of how much commitment, talent and creativity is available to help the Ottawa Centre be a powerhouse of practical innovation.

Meanwhile, good will and enthusiasm continue to abound within the network of seven Centres and between the network and FCM. In addition, working with the Canadian Urban Sustainability Planners network, municipal representatives from all the cities involved have established an LC3 Municipal Advisory Group. Transfer of funds is expected in early 2020.

Though the federal LC3 funding is focused on emissions reduction, Minister McKenna tied this work in with her vision of Ottawa as the Greenest Capital. Things like improving cycling infrastructure to make Ottawa a more livable and sustainable place, as well as a more attractive destination for tourism, improving connectivity of green spaces and the quality of air, water and habitats in and around the city, and setting an example with high energy efficiency standards for prominent Ottawa buildings were all mentioned as part of this larger vision.

Minister McKenna also took the opportunity to speak out against what she calls a misleading sticker campaign forcing Ontario small businesses to display stickers with misinformation about carbon taxation, emphasizing that small business owners she talks to want to part of a climate solution. This aligns with her vision of climate change as not only a huge priority issue, but also a huge opportunity for a vibrant economy – and also fits in with messages coming from many other groups as well.

Also on hand for the announcement were Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, FCM president (and Halifax City Council member) Bill Karsten, Councillor Tim Tierny (who serves on the FCM Board), Stephan Giguere from Ottawa Community Housing, and Rebecca Aird and Danielle Côté from the OCF.

Mayor Watson echoed the vision of Ottawa as a sustainable, vibrant city that Min. McKenna outlined, and his hopes for continued productive partnerships with those present. Rebecca Aird spoke more to these partnerships by naming several specific groups and individuals in attendance who continue to collaborate on sustainability initiatives in Ottawa, especially sustainable buildings and energy production. Her message wrapped up with one of enthusiasm for the energy and positive spirit of collaboration between all parties involved.

Looking at the commitment, experience, and multitude of supporting and related projects already underway from the City of Ottawa, local businesses, and the non-profit sector, it’s easy to agree. We look forward to a bright future for this collaboration and all the residents of Ottawa.


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