RESIGNATION AS CHAIR OF MAYOR’S ENVIRONMENTAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Last night, I tendered my resignation as Chair of the Mayor's Environmental Advisory Committee (MEAC). There was a unanimous agreement among all members that the current committee structure is ineffective and that there is little value in continuing with the current MEAC model. The membership of the committee which included representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, the Institute of Sustainable Development, The Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources, the University of Manitoba, The Institute for Sustainable Transportation, and two citizen members came to a consensus that the City of Winnipeg needs a new model and a new approach to tackling the hugely significant issue of Environmental Sustainability. To back that up, the majority of members indicated their intention to resign from the committee. After the dissolution of the Civic Environmental Committee in 2005, the new MEAC was set up without a budget, dedicated staff, and lacked a transparent reporting mechanism to Council. I was appointed as Chair of the MEAC in November of 2007. During that time the committee provided advice on many topics including: a green building policy, a green vehicle plan, a Community wide Green House Gas reduction plan, curbside pick up of organic waste, a wind turbine project, gas recapture at the landfill, public engagement strategy for Plan Winnipeg, promoting the safety and low cost of city water, and improvements to recycling in city facilities. The Committee recognized that the advice it was providing languished in a vacuum with a sense that no one was listening. The structure of reporting only to the Mayor in private without the ability to report directly to council, created a public perception of a lack of effectiveness and of invisibility. When the city restructuring occurred eliminating the political policy staff (EPC Secretariat) the committee became even more isolated and excluded from the processes and work of city hall. Over the last several months there was an effort to convince the Mayor to make changes to the structure and provide more support to the committee as well as to create a true Environmental office within the administration. A letter of consensus signed by MEAC members was sent to the Mayor on January 19th, 2009 providing advice about what needs to happen to increase the city's capacity for Environmental and Sustainability Planning and to improve the functionality of MEAC. This letter along with efforts to communicate these needs directly to the Mayor and the Chief Administrative Officer led to no significant result. In the Free Press today, Councillor Browaty stated that "Calgary has 19 environment people, but what good is that if they don't have curbside recycling?" Given the fact that Winnipeg has one person representing our Environmental office and the worst record in the country in the level of recycling, this is a pretty slim justification of the current situation. Sometimes the only way to create something new is to cast off the old model that no longer works and trust that the void will be come to be filled with something useful, effective and meaningful. There is an opportunity here for the City of Winnipeg to create new and better ways of engaging citizens and developing better policies in order to face the huge environmental challenges we are up against. Thank you for your interest in Civic Issues! Cheers! Jenny Jenny Gerbasi Councillor Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry jgerbasi@winnipeg.ca