Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

After the floods, Toronto needs a renewed focus on infrastructure — and fighting climate change

By: Matt Elliott Metro, Metro Published on Tue Jul 09 2013

Back in January, the Toronto Environment Office visited city hall's parks and environment committee to deliver a presentation on Toronto's Future Weather & Climate. The presentation served as an overview of a series of reports detailing the weather patterns our city can expect 30 years from now. With flood waters across the city still receding, today feels like a good time to revisit that presentation.

The findings, in sum: Everything in this city could get pretty terrible, weather-wise. The hottest days will get way hotter — with extreme heat days capping out at a scorching 44 degrees. The number of days with temperatures greater than 30 degrees will more than triple from 20 to 66 every year. Which sounds nice for beach-goers, until you consider the impact all those humming air conditioners will have on our electrical grid.

Meanwhile, the report says we'll see far more intense rain storms — with an 80% increase in average rainfall in July and a 50% increase in August versus today's levels. In the 2040s, Toronto will see fewer rainy days than today, but the rainy days we do get will be far worse, with extreme storms that could drop a whopping 166 millimetres of rain. We got just 126 millimetres last night.

But the Ford criticism this morning wasn't really warranted. Yeah, Ford isn't Nenshi. And he's definitely not Booker. But most mayors aren't. For non-superhero types, the sensible thing for an elected official to do in a time of real emergency is to stay in communication but out of the way. All Ford and the other 44 members of Toronto City Council could really do last night was help their constituents where appropriate and hope that the emergency procedures that have been put in place across the city's bureaucracy executed as they were supposed to.

By that measure, everything seemed to go pretty well. Considering the volume of water, Toronto is doing okay today. The subways are moving. The streets are mostly clear. Almost all residents have power. And those with flooding basements are taking stock and moving on. Employees with the city, local transit agencies and emergency services were rockstars last night, and they deserve our appreciation this morning.

But for elected officials, the real test wasn't last night. It's ongoing. Councillors approved several recommendations related to the Future Weather report earlier this year. The city manager is currently establishing a working group made up of representatives from city departments, the Board of Health, Toronto Hydro and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority to look at what they call our “increasingly wet and volatile climate.” They're due to report back at the end of the year.

That's a good first step, but councillors and the mayor must do more. Even at the municipal level, governments do not have the luxury of passing the buck on the climate change issue any longer. They don't have the luxury of pushing off to future generations the infrastructure investments needed to better weather these storms. Yes, emergency response procedures are important, but so is taking a proactive approach.

We can either spend the money now building proper flood protection and supporting other initiatives that can help fight climate change or we spend far more money later on repairing the inevitable damage that comes from a lack of action and preparation.

It won't be cheap. And, for some, who still cling to notions that climate change is some kind of elaborate hoax scientists are playing as a gag, it won't be popular. But the alternatives are few and far between. More rain's coming.

This post was originally published at on 2013-07-09T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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