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Tory's Toronto

Metro's Matt Elliott, formerly of Ford For Toronto, keeps the light shining on Mayor John Tory's city hall.

Toronto's cost-cutting council is not ready for climate change: Matt Elliott

Even as the waters on Toronto Island rise, the mayor's executive committee shelved a report on stormwater management.

Even as the Toronto islands waters rise, Mayor John Tory's executive committee shelved a stormwater management report because of concerns about a fee proposed for parking lot owners.

Torstar News Service

Even as the Toronto islands waters rise, Mayor John Tory's executive committee shelved a stormwater management report because of concerns about a fee proposed for parking lot owners.

The waters are running high on Toronto Island.

Widespread flooding means visitor ferry traffic has been halted. All park permits through June 30 have been cancelled. There’s talk that the island will remain closed to the public well into the summer.

As a result, idyllic weddings have been cancelled. The school is closed. More than half the buildings on the island are at risk of damage. Carp are literally swimming atop the Gibraltar Point baseball diamond.

Meanwhile, back on the mainland, the response at city hall has been a little, well, fishy.

Because — don’t kid yourself — this is no aberration. The kind of extreme rainfall that led to this flooding was ably predicted by those familiar with climate change. Look no further than a city hall report titled “Toronto’s Future Weather and Climate Driver Study” from way back in 2011.

“Extreme rainstorm events will become more extreme,” the report declared, using data to project weather patterns through 2050. Their numbers suggested Toronto’s daily rainfall will increase threefold over the coming decades.

With the island underwater and storms that flood the Don Valley becoming a perennial summer event, those projections are looking pretty solid right now.

But despite ample warning, Toronto politicians have been slow to react to the city’s increasingly weird and destructive weather.

Last Tuesday, while island waters were still rising, Mayor John Tory pushed his executive committee to shelve a report on stormwater management. The report would have led to recommendations on a fee charged to owners of parking lots and other large impermeable surfaces, with the rationale that they significantly increase the odds of flooding.

A small shift, but an important one in the context of extreme rainfall. But Tory’s committee nixed it, citing the complexity of implementing the fee.

A similar thing happened back in February during the city’s budget debate, when council voted against a motion by Coun. Gord Perks to fund climate-change mitigation programs through Toronto’s TransformTO initiative.

You wouldn’t think it would be so hard to get elected officials to do something about a threat to the homes and lives of their constituents.

For the most part, the city’s climate-change strategies are simple. In the short term, they’re about building infrastructure to adapt to new conditions, so floodwaters aren’t so destructive and energy use is more efficient.

In the long term, Toronto adapting to climate change means pursuing things that the city should be pursuing, even absent an apocalyptic threat. The latest TransformTO report lays out a vision for a low-emission Toronto, with cars banished from large swaths of downtown, a sprawling transit system and efficient housing that enables people to live close to work — close enough to walk or bike.

It’s a worthy vision, but achieving it means Toronto must take steps today to show that addressing climate change is a top priority.

To date, despite volumes of study, accurate weather projections and those carp on the baseball diamond, that hasn’t happened. Which leaves me wondering: exactly how deep underwater does Toronto need to be before our leaders get serious?

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