Commuter Challenge Update

Peace and Environment News, July–August 2012
by Mike Buckthought

Commuter ChallengeDuring Environment Week (June 3–9), over 25,500 people across Canada joined the 2012 Commuter Challenge. The annual event encourages everyone to use sustainable modes of transportation such as walking, cycling, public transit and telecommuting. By taking part in the Challenge, participants reduced greenhouse gas emissions by over 440 tonnes of carbon dioxide during the week.

In Ottawa-Gatineau, a total of 1,500 people joined the Commuter Challenge. Over 40 workplaces were represented, ranging from small non-profit organizations to large federal government departments.

The Commuter Challenge included an environment-friendly competition between workplaces, to see which organizations had the highest rates of participation.

In Ottawa-Gatineau, the winning organizations were: the Sierra Youth Coalition (80% participation; workplaces with fewer than 50 employees), CUSO International (43% participation; 50–100 employees), Mountain Equipment Co-op (39% participation; 100–150 employees), Canadian Museum of Nature (32% participation; 150–200 employees), Fairmont Château Laurier (13% participation; 200–1,000 employees), Export Development Corporation (12% participation; 1,000–2,000 employees), and Statistics Canada (16% participation; workplaces with more than 2,000 employees).

The event also included an environment-friendly competition between communities, to see which cities and towns had the highest rates of participation. Calgary was the winning community among the cities with populations greater than one million. In Calgary, a total of 6,770 people used sustainable modes of transportation such as the C-Train, cycling and walking to get to work.

Another winning city was Winnipeg (cities with a population over 500,000). For the ninth year, it was the leading city in its population category. The Province of Manitoba and City of Winnipeg have been strong supporters of the Commuter Challenge, and this has translated into high participation rates in the province. Over 5,200 Winnipeggers joined the event this year.

The other winning communities were: Halifax (population over 250,000), Kingston, Ontario (population over 100,000), Saint John, New Brunswick (population over 50,000), North Vancouver, BC (population over 25,000), Thompson, Manitoba (population over 10,000), Banff, Alberta (population over 5,000), and Wabowden, Manitoba (population under 5,000).

Commuter Challenge 2012 was organized by non-profit organizations and municipalities across the country, including the Sustainable Alberta Association, Green Action Centre, Better Environmentally Sound Transportation, Clean Nova Scotia, City of Kingston and Region of Waterloo.

To view the results of the Commuter Challenge, visit The 2013 Commuter Challenge will take place during Environment Week, June 2–8, 2013.

Mike Buckthought is a car-free commuter, and founder of the Commuter Challenge.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 27, Number 3, July–August 2012, page 3.

Council Eliminates Meeting Minutes

Peace and Environment News, May–June 2011
by Mike Buckthought

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” — Tim Berners-Lee, World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Director and inventor of the World Wide Web.

On April 13, Council voted to eliminate the detailed minutes for standing committee meetings. The detailed minutes will be replaced by audio clips and brief action minutes. These will be uploaded to the city’s website, but many people will now be shut out of important debates at city hall.

What happens if someone can’t listen to audio clips? Text transcripts of the discussions are essential for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Cancelling the detailed minutes will make it difficult for many citizens to be involved in debates of important municipal issues.

When making its decision to eliminate the detailed minutes, Council failed to consider best practices for accessible websites.

Best practices for web design emphasize the importance of providing text alternatives for any non-text content. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 include a number of recommendations to ensure that websites are accessible.

For example, one Guideline states that all websites should include “text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, braille, speech, symbols or simpler language.”

Eliminating the detailed minutes will create a barrier for many people who need text equivalents of audio information.

It’s also worth noting that the detailed minutes were used by many people who wished to search for relevant information, without wasting time listening to hours of discussions. Citizens, councillors and city staff relied on the minutes when researching key Council decisions.

Eliminating the detailed minutes will also create problems for people who do not have access to a high-speed Internet connection. People who cannot afford high-speed Internet access will find it difficult to listen to audio clips.

Responding to concerns about accessibility, Councillor Wilkinson introduced a motion to continue to provide detailed synopsis minutes. Unfortunately her motion was defeated, 7 to 12.

Voting in favour of providing detailed minutes: Councillors Deans, Fleury, Hobbs, Holmes, Monette, Taylor and Wilkinson.

Voting against continuing the detailed minutes: Mayor Watson and Councillors Blais, Chernushenko, Chiarelli, Desroches, El-Chantiry, Harder, Hume, Moffatt, Qadri, Thompson and Tierney.

The minutes included records of important votes. In the future, it remains to be seen if there will be detailed breakdowns of votes on motions. The action minutes might simply say “Carried” — leaving us to guess where councillors stood on a particular issue. The minutes are essential, if we care about transparency and open access to city government.

Cancelling the detailed minutes represents a serious setback for municipal democracy. It is astonishing that a tech-savvy city such as Ottawa would take such a step backwards, ignoring best practices for accessible websites.

The city should continue to provide detailed minutes for standing committee meetings, to ensure that all members of the public can continue to be engaged in discussing important municipal issues.

Mike Buckthought is an Ottawa writer and community activist.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 26, Number 3 — May–June 2011, page 8.

Calling for an End to Uranium Mining

Peace and Environment News — Insider, November–December 2010
by Mike Buckthought

Mining corporations have been caught up in a new gold rush, seeking to mine uranium near many communities. People across Canada have expressed concerns about the health and environmental impacts of uranium exploration and mining. Radioactive toxins can pollute rivers and lakes, contaminating water supplies for generations to come. Radon gas is released, exposing people to a known carcinogen.

In Eastern Ontario, there has been strong public opposition to the plans of mining corporation Frontenac Ventures, which has explored for uranium near Sharbot Lake, southwest of Ottawa.

In 2007 and 2008, protests by First Nations and local residents gained national media attention. Many people joined blockades at the exploration site. Ottawa, Kingston, Peterborough and 20 other Ontario municipalities passed resolutions calling for a moratorium on uranium mining and exploration. Local resident Donna Dillman started a 68-day hunger strike to call for an end to uranium exploration in Eastern Ontario.

Frontenac Ventures drilled 15 holes in 2008, but the exploration has stopped, likely due to the strong opposition from First Nations and local organizations such as the Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU).

“Fifteen holes were drilled during the time that we were told that no activity was happening,” says Mireille LaPointe, Co-Chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation. She says people were trying to come to an agreement with the government at the time. The company went ahead, despite assurances that no exploration was taking place.

The company has halted its activities, a positive development that shows that public opposition does have an impact. However, there are still some environmental concerns, related to the removal of vegetation and soil.

“With mining companies they drill holes and then they take off. They don’t cap them properly,” LaPointe says. “Nothing is replanted, the damage isn’t repaired. And they have no right to do that, but they are given the right to do that.”

LaPointe talks about the need to think about how future generations can be affected by uranium exploration and mining. There is a lack of balance, she says, with too much emphasis placed on supporting the profit-making enterprises of corporations.

“Once the water is polluted, where are we going to live? This is where we live, this is our home. We need to start thinking in those terms,” she says. “Things are out of balance… our quality of life is going to start being eroded.”

LaPointe expresses her optimism about recent efforts to oppose uranium mining, and says politicians need to pay more attention to what the citizens are saying. “I think that the issue is not one of involvement, so much as one of politicians not paying attention to what the people are saying. They’re paying more attention to what the corporations are saying,” says LaPointe.

She talks about the need for people to become engaged, and to educate themselves.

“People can become more informed citizens of their own country, and people can also become more informed about the health of indigenous communities, and why these communities — if they are unhealthy — why are they unhealthy.”

“People need to become more active citizens, and by becoming more active citizens, this country becomes a healthier place,” she says.

Meanwhile in Québec, many citizens have become active. They are voicing their strong opposition to uranium exploration and mining, and the refurbishment of the Gentilly-2 nuclear plant. The northern Québec city of Sept-Îles has been a focal point for public opposition. Hundreds of people have joined demonstrations to call for a halt to uranium exploration and mining near the city.

Across the province, a total of 200 municipalities representing over 590,000 citizens have passed a resolution calling for the Québec government to abandon its support for nuclear energy. The resolution proposes shifting to sustainable sources of power, such as wind and solar energy.

Gaëtan Ruest is mayor of Amqui, Québec, and spokesperson for the campaign « Le sort du nucléaire Québécois, un choix de société ».

Ruest says there is a need for increased public involvement to counter the nuclear industry. “A strong civic engagement is essential if we wish to convince the government to reconsider its decision to follow the nuclear adventure and to enact a law that would exclude the establishment of a permanent nuclear waste site on the territory of Québec,” he says.

“The opposition to the exploration and extraction of uranium, demonstrated in an unequivocal manner by municipalities in many regions of Québec, should lead to solidarity and vigilance among us.”

Here in Ontario, you can help support calls for a province-wide moratorium on uranium exploration and mining. Please write to: Premier Dalton McGuinty, 1795 Kilborn Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario K1H 6N1,

For further information, visit:

• The Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU),

• Uranium Citizens’ Inquiry,

• MiningWatch,

• Sortons le Québec du Nucléaire,

Mike Buckthought writes about environmental and human rights issues.

Peace and Environment News — Insider, Volume 25, Number 6, November–December 2010, page 1.

A Moratorium on New Roads

Peace and Environment News, September–October 2008
by Mike Buckthought and Lori Waller

Ecology Ottawa is petitioning city council to declare a five-year moratorium on spending for new roads and road widening. This funding would be better directed towards public transit, cycling, and pedestrian infrastructure. The City of Ottawa should support sustainable transportation instead of wasting money on new roads.

Ottawa’s motor vehicles produce 1.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, contributing to climate change. From 1990 to 2004, emissions from the transportation sector have increased by 15 per cent. Cars create a toxic mix of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds.

Smog is a serious problem in Ottawa. In 2005, air pollution in Ottawa was estimated to cause 290 premature deaths, 3,010 visits to emergency rooms, $25 million in health care costs, and over $18 million in lost productivity. Smog causes asthma and other respiratory diseases, heart diseases and cancer.

Ottawa’s Official Plan talks about promoting environment-friendly modes of transport. However, our city plans to spend $1.5 billion on roadways between 2008 and 2017. This includes $690 million for building new roads and widening existing roads. When roads are widened, traffic expands to fill the available space. The result is more smog, more traffic jams — and more expenses for taxpayers.

This year, the city had to cancel repaving on 20 per cent of the roads that need it because of higher fuel costs. At a time when we can’t afford to fix the roads we have, the last thing we should be doing is building more. We pay increasing taxes to maintain an expanding road network — 6,000 kilometres, and growing.

Narrow, pedestrian-centred streets are easier to maintain, and they encourage a sense of community. They’re also good for business. People are more likely to shop in neighbourhoods where they feel safe walking around. Children are more likely to feel safe playing in neighbourhoods built for people. Widening roads only increases the traffic, making our streets unsafe for children.

Car-centric cities are unsustainable. When roads are built in the suburbs and the countryside, we lose our precious farmland — it’s paved over, to make way for big box stores, and oversized parking lots. Urban sprawl threatens the way of life of Ottawa’s farmers. We must protect our villages, green spaces, and agricultural lands from the urban sprawl that is compounded by roads, which take up a fifth of all land in the urban area. When we grow food locally, we reduce emissions from the trucks used to transport imports from California and other distant places.

A road moratorium could include a cap and trade system. If a new road must be built somewhere, an equivalent length of road could be converted into a pedestrian street. In the future, many roads will become lively pedestrian-centred streets. Over time, we can reduce the total length of the road network — and encourage public transit, cycling and walking instead.

You can write to your councillor and the mayor, and tell them you want a moratorium on the construction of new roads. You can find your councillor’s contact information at:

Tell your friends about the petition, and ask them to sign it at:

Get involved with Ecology Ottawa, and help make Ottawa a more sustainable city. For information, visit

Lori Waller is Ecology Ottawa’s Environmental Research Associate. Mike Buckthought is a member of Ecology Ottawa’s Steering Committee.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 23, Number 5, September–October 2008, page 1.

Envisioning Democracy for Ottawa

Peace and Environment News, May–June 2007
by Mike Buckthought

In April, Mayor Larry O’Brien announced his plan to transform Ottawa, proclaiming the start of “1,000 days of change.” He called for closed-door meetings, to be held at the Pineview Golf Club. And what would be discussed, at a golf course? The city’s priorities, for the next few years. City councillors were invited, but he forgot to include the public — until there was an outcry.

An exercise in participatory budgeting? Not exactly. When a corporation creates long-range plans, it holds retreats in the country, and executives talk about profits, and increased “efficiency.” Mayor O’Brien has called for a more “business-like” approach. This new corporate approach may include the privatization of public services.

There is another approach. We do not need “corporate visioning exercises,” because we already have a long-range plan, called Ottawa 20/20. It was drafted after much public input, and it describes a new kind of city. Not an uncaring city, obsessed with tax cuts, but a city that is able to re-invent itself.

Ottawa 20/20 addresses the chronic underfunding of the arts: “A creative city must be able to sustain a concentration of artists, creative people, cultural organizations and creative industries.”

The Transportation Master Plan recommends increased support for public transit: “The City’s growth management strategy aims to increase transit’s peak hour share of motorized person-trips to 30 per cent. This is almost twice today’s level, and compares well to many large European cities.”

Ottawa has forgotten about its long-range plans — plans that were approved by City Council. Elsewhere, cities such as Toronto and Vancouver are investing billions of dollars to create new transit lines. Ottawa, by contrast, is going backwards — back to the suburban sprawl of the fifties. The 2007 Budget calls for millions of dollars in road construction, and the Province plans to widen Highway 417.

There used to be money for cycling. Now, this so-called “city with swagger” can’t afford to spend $50,000 to teach children how to cycle safely. It doesn’t care all that much about day cares. The idea of keeping up with inflation was kept out of the debate. Back in March, a proposed 2 per cent funding increase was turned down.

The solution to this mess? We need to return to Ottawa 20/20.

How to get from here to the year 2020? Citizens need to have a say in our city’s budget. It is not something to be left to executives, meeting behind closed doors.

We can learn from the experiences of other cities. Participatory budgets have been used in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and other cities around the world. We can learn from their successes and failures.

Citizens in Montréal’s Plateau-Mont-Royal have started the experiment — adapting the idea of participatory budgets, experimenting and innovating. We need to learn from their experience.

Democracy starts here — not behind the closed doors of a boardroom, but in public spaces illuminated by shared ideas and experiences.

For information about activities planned by Imagine Ottawa and the Ottawa Budget Coalition, visit: Ottawa 20/20 is available online:

Mike Buckthought writes about environmental and social justice issues.

Peace and Environment News, Volume 22, Numbers 4–5, May–June 2007, page 1.