Stratford’s response to climate change takes center stage in latest town hall debate

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Looking at every spending decision at City Hall through a climate lens is the most effective strategy Stratford can use to minimize its impact on the environment, Mayor Hope Kathy Vassilakos said.

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“The budget is where we have the biggest impact,” Vassilakos said during a town hall debate at Cooperlight, formerly Knox Presbyterian Church, on Wednesday. “Having all city departments put a climate lens on both the operating budget and the capital budget is how we do the work we are supposed to do to achieve our climate goals.”

Stratford mayoral candidates – Vassilakos, Martin Ritsma and Robert Ritz – faced off Wednesday at an event hosted by the Stratford Arts and Culture Collective and the Stratford Chapter of the Canadian Federation of Graduate Women in Education. universities.

Candidates’ ideas on how to address climate change at the local level was one of four topics of interest.

Ritsma spent much of his time on the issue sharing with the crowd of around 300 people some of the green decisions he made at home on his farm, including geothermal heating and plans for solar panels on the roof that will make the operation carbon neutral.

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“Different people can achieve this due to different financial capabilities, but the other thing we can do is help people who can’t by incentivizing them,” he said. “Maybe you install a solar panel, (but) what can we do as a municipality to help these people?”

Ritz responded by taking his position as an outsider on the council for the mayoral race, specifically asking Ritsma why he hadn’t pushed for these kinds of initiatives at City Hall sooner.

“That’s maybe one of the reasons why I’m here now, to help push some of this forward,” Ritz said after going through a few of his own ideas, including decarbonizing the fleet of city ​​vehicles, isolating and repurposing heritage buildings, and exploring whether Festival Hydro can play a role in helping residents manage green infrastructure in their homes.

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“When we do these kinds of things, we have to make sure that we get a return on investment and … that the cost of these incentives is managed outside the tax base, that it is self-sustaining and self-financing.

Vassilakos concluded the segment by championing some of the projects the town hall has already highlighted, including the purchase of an electric Zamboni, the green bin program and the switch to LED lighting in municipal buildings.

“We’ve actually declared a climate emergency, we’ve set our (greenhouse gas emissions) target, and we’ve hired a climate change manager who’s going to work on that,” she said. “I think we know what we need to do, we just need to do more and faster.”

Wednesday’s debate was moderated by Pat Quigley, former director of education at the Stratford Festival. In addition to the environment, the event included other topics of importance to both host organizations, including housing and Stratford’s arts and culture scene.

The debate followed a similar event organized by the Stratford and District Chamber of Commerce which included the 32 candidates for City Council earlier this month.

On Thursday, the Local Community Food Center hosts the Stratford Municipal Election Community Think Tank at 6 p.m. Candidates for Stratford City Council will join community members in lively panel discussions on various local issues.

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Jessica C. Bell