Going against the tide

November 11, 2020

 

Waves

Community energy planning allows a community to understand their local energy system so they can identify the best local opportunities to reduce energy consumption, emissions, and costs. This is what it means to be an energy conscious community.

So, community energy planning is going with the tide when it comes to fighting climate change. Half of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions are under community influence. The leadership of Canadian communities – big and small – is urgently needed to fight climate change.

However, community energy planning is going against the tide when it comes to collaborative governance. In 2012, Don Lenihan wrote a compelling case for putting citizens back at the centre of our politics. His book – Rescuing Policy: The Case for Public Engagement – is even more relevant today. There is a solid case for why the public should be involved in identifying the best policy options. In the case of community energy planning it is essential because they must be a partner in the successful implementation of those policies. Unfortunately, the tide is travelling in the wrong direction.

Governments at all levels – federal, provincial, and municipal – have been consolidating power in ever smaller circles. We have seen some of the most extreme examples south of the border, but the trend is also visible at home.

For instance, in Ontario, the provincial government is overriding local planning processes, eliminating public consultation and environmental assessments - even how municipalities choose to vote.  

In my community, I continue to see a disturbing trend of administrative expediency trumping informed public engagement in municipal decision making.

Public polarization is often inferred as a reason for taking a short cut. Social media is also blamed. Now, it is the pandemic. There is truth in these experiences, but the risk is this: what seems like a rationale decision in the moment can have irrational outcomes for our democracy in the long run.  

Collaborative governance is essential for successful community energy planning, but it is more important than that. It is essential for a healthy, well-functioning and inclusionary democracy. Our success in building a more sustainable future relies on good governance.