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It’s time for climate-change defeatists to get out of the way

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The Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change are meeting in Katowice, Poland. The site is a southern city and the “heart of Poland’s coal country.” The conference was opened by David Attenborough, aged 92, natural historian, journalist, and—among many other credits—narrator of the BBC’s iconic Planet Earth series. Referring to climate change as “our greatest threat in thousands of years,” he concluded: “If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”

He’s not wrong. Those of us with our heads outside the sand and, well, outside of other places, know the warning offered by Attenborough to be serious and true. And we’re feeling it. Recently, we’ve started to talk about climate grief or ecological grief  or ecological anxiety more than we did before. Much more. People are having a hard time processing extreme weather and reports about what’s to come for them, those they love, their communities, their country and the world. They’re anxious. They’re depressed. They’re despondent. I’m one of them.

The rise of this anxiety and grief is bad for our mental health. It’s bad for our physical health. It’s bad for the economy. It’s bad for democracy. For years, the world’s most vulnerable people have been living with and suffering through the consequences of a changing environment, but now concern has reached a crescendo and we can all hear it—except for those who plug their ears and pretend the music isn’t playing. For those who aren’t cowards or selfish monsters or wretched social liabilities willfully closed off to the reality of imminent doom, the now-daily news about what’s coming is something we stare down in anger, frustration, hopeless, and even terror.

RELATED: Nobody should believe Canadian politicians who promise to fight climate change

It’s bizarre to be reminded day after day, in small ways and big ways, that the world you know and have known for years is falling apart. News of severe weather. Reports detailing the coming collapse. Primers on how to reduce your carbon footprint by changing your diet. Climate change becomes a routine conversation. It comes up at the bar. It comes up in class. It comes up at the holiday dinner table. It comes up while the guy at the counter prepares your takeaway. You start to feel it. You go to bed with it. You wake up with it. We’re moving slowly and we’re meant to be moving quickly. We know what’s coming is bad but we’re not sure just how bad—and then we hear about civilisational collapse. Some days, I don’t see the point of getting out of bed. Or working. I hear stories all the time about those who experience the same challenges.

This anxiety and grief are made worse by impediments to addressing the source of those feelings. We can’t address climate change with our fellow citizens standing in our way. We need climate deniers, defenders of the status quo, and those who throw up their hands and say “The hell with it, what can we do?” to move along so that the rest of us can save ourselves and future generations. Anyone who isn’t serious about getting over themselves and their fundamentalism (market, ideological, other)—ahem, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, short-sighted corporations, certain pundits and columnists—needs to step aside and make room for those of us who care about the future. It would be nice of those folks would get out of the way immediately. Or better, work with us. But the stakes are high. So, if they won’t do one or the other, then we ought to ignore, marginalize, and defeat them at the ballot box, in community centres, on the streets, and in the boardrooms. Wherever we must.

That means protests. That means lawsuits. That means trying to convince deniers or holdouts with our reasons. That means shouting them down at town halls if giving reasons fails. That means organizing against them to ensure that the parties who win power and the businesses that get our dollars are ones who are committed to saving humankind. That means demanding that those who say “but Canada is only a single, small country!…” to hold their tongues while we build a coalition of climate warriors. That means putting our words into the world and our feet onto the street. Our collective fate is at stake and therefore our options and our actions must be expansive.

RELATED: Why Saskatchewan is still holding out on the feds’ climate plan

We must avoid the impulse to hide away. In a world replete with opportunities for distraction—for me it’s video games, bad television and trips to Las Vegas—it’s easy to disappear, if only for a little while at a time. The ensuing cycle is predictable and rational and devastating: the growing existential threat of climate change alarms and depresses you and more; the failure of the world community of nations to address the threat compounds the worry, anger, frustration, and fear; journalists, authors, scholars, and others write about the mess and just how very, very, very bad it is and how bad we are at responding to it; you feel hopeless; then comes the deep anxiety or grief; then more hopelessness. Then you become demotivated (what’s the point of resisting or doing anything for that matter, since we’re goners?). Finally, the growing existential threat of climate change grows and becomes more alarming. Repeat until doom.

Facing the threat of climate change head on is now a moral imperative—and one we can better address through the lens of hopefulness. Before we set off to work, before we take on the tasks mentioned above, we must also commit to being hopeful that something can be done and that we can and will do it. Then we need to get at it with the fury and passion of believers.

Grace Nosek is a PhD student in law at the University of British Columbia. Years ago, I first heard from her about the importance of hope when talking about climate change. Recently, she argued that local, community action is essential to finding it. Local action matters. So do small, compounding actions. We need big actions, too. Structural changes by governments. Aggressive ones. The sorts of unprecedented actions you see towards the end of a blockbuster film about how we rally together to survive an alien threat—except for the enemy here is one we’ve created ourselves and can yet still defeat together.

Those of us in the conversation about our future must commit to action guided by hope, and supported by a commitment to personal and structural change. Overcoming climate anxiety and grief calls for a return to the close connections of community enhanced by the broader links of a networked society and backed by an unyielding commitment to action. It’s either that or rolling over and accepting death. Let’s choose hope and work.

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Dreessen: Ottawa has to shed its image as a town that doesn’t like fun

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Ottawa has long held a reputation as a place that fun forgot. People who live here know that there is a lot to love about the city: its history, the Rideau Canal, proximity to parks and rivers, excellent clubs, museums and galleries all make Ottawa a great place.

More spontaneous fun things are harder to come by. We’ve created a process that makes it hard for small businesses to thrive and where the process is more important than the outcome.

In 2016, a local artist planned to give away free T-shirts celebrating Ottawa 2017 on Sparks Street, until the local Business Improvement Association (BIA) asked him to move, squashing a fun event to bring people together.

In 2017, business proposals to the NCC executive committee made a business case to open cafés at Remic Rapids, Confederation Park and Patterson Creek. In the summer of 2020, two opened; the Patterson Creek location, opposed by neighbours, has yet to see the light of day, though the NCC website indicates it may happen in 2021.

In each case, the cafés are only open for a few brief summer months. Despite the fact that Ottawa celebrates itself as a winter city, we can’t, somehow, imagine how people might want to enjoy a café in the spring or fall, or during winter months while skiing along the river or skating along the canal. Keeping public washrooms open, serving takeout and, yes, using patio heaters, could make these cafés fun additions to our city for most of the year.

More recently, Jerk on Wheels, a food truck with excellent Caribbean chicken and two locations, has run intro trouble. The one on Merivale Road continues, but the Bank Street location in Old Ottawa South has to close. According to social media posts from the owners, despite the business having all permissions in place, local restaurant franchises of Dairy Queen and Tim Hortons have objected to its presence.

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Ottawa businesses frustrated with slower pace of Ontario’s Roadmap to Reopen plan compared to other provinces

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OTTAWA — As Canada plots its roadmap to reopening, each province is choosing their own path to reopen the economy and lift the COVID-19 restrictions.

Some are moving towards loosened restrictions at a faster pace than Ontario, which is frustrating for business owners who say they are ready to receive customers safely.

Patio season is upon the city, and at Banditos Restaurant on Bank Street, owner Matt Loudon is staging the large outdoor dining area to prepare for the summer rush. But the patio will have to remain closed until at least June 14, when it is expected Ontario will move into Step One of the three-step Roadmap to Reopen plan

“I hope they push it up a little bit,” says Loudon. “It’s beyond frustrating all the other provinces are opening up before us, we’ve been locked down longer than anybody else.”

Loudon, who owns two restaurants, says their outdoor seating has always been safe and that they have invested in added measures like sanitization stations and personal protective equipment for the staff. Indoor dining will continue to remain off limits in Ontario until Step Three. When patios do open, tables will be limited to four people. 

Unlike British Columbia’s four-pronged approach that began May 25. Residents in the province are now allowed to dine both inside and out, with a maximum of six per table, not restricted to one household.

Quebec will enter into its first step Friday, where outdoor dining will be available for two adults and their children, who can be from separate addresses per table. This applies to red and orange zones in the province. The curfew will also be lifted. 

In Gatineau, hair salons opened their doors to customers last week. Ten minutes away at Salon Bliss in Ottawa, all owner Sarah Cross can do is hope she can reopen sometime in July.

“Most people think that government funding covers all the bills but it’s far from it,” says Cross. Her upscale salon has nine chairs and over the course of the pandemic, in order to comply with regulations and keep staff and patrons, safe, only three chairs can now be filled. She says the hardest part is that the rules constantly change and vary in each region, adding it doesn’t make sense how one is better than the other.

“Our livelihood is dependent on what the decisions are made and if they were aligned with one belief system then I think they would have the trust of the public to follow these protocols.”

Many Ontario business owners say it’s not only a matter of necessity they open, but can do so safely. Infectious disease physician Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti agrees, and says the province needs to expedite its timeline.

“Especially with the fact that we are in the post vaccine era,” says Chakrabarti.

“It’s important for us to remember that we have been following this case count very closely for the last year and certainly we’ve had some experiences with opening things, especially with the second and third waves we have to remember that as we go forward now vaccines are a huge difference maker to the situation. Cases may go up but that doesn’t mean the most important thing will go up which is hospitalizations.”

Chakrabarti says while people will still get infected with COVID-19, with the reduced risk of hospitalization in large numbers there is no reason to restrict the community. He says while it’s not time for packed stadiums, it’s also not time for lockdowns and Ontario should re-think its strategy.

“We have to faith in the vaccines. We have seen in the other parts of the world like Israel, the U.K.,and the U.S. our neighbours to the south,” says Chakrabarti. “They are very safe and effective and our ticket out of this pandemic. We really should be taking that.”

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$2.9 million tax break for Ottawa Porsche dealership receives the green ligh

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OTTAWA — Ottawa city council has given the green light to a $2.9 million tax break for a new Porsche dealership in Vanier.

Council voted 15 to 9 to approve a grant under the Community Improvement Plan initiative to build a Porsche dealership at the corner of Montreal Road and St. Laurent Boulevard.  The project by Mrak Holdings Inc., a.k.a. Mark Motors of Ottawa, would be built at 458 Montreal Road.

Under the Community Improvement Plan approved by Council, business owners can apply for a grant equal to 75 per cent of the municipal tax increase attributable to the redevelopment. A report says the goal of the Montreal Road Community Improvement Plan is to “stimulate business investment, urban renewal and property upgrades in the area.”

Coun. Catherine McKenney was one of nine councillors who opposed the tax break for the Porsche dealership.

“I agree with the Community Improvement Plan, but I know and what people see here is that this application does not meet the criteria,” said McKenney about the CIP proposal for the Porsche dealership.

“A car dealership, no matter whether it’s Honda, or a Porsche or a Volkswagen, it does not first off belong on a traditional main street. This does not the meet the criteria of a CIP, it will do nothing for urban renewal.”

Approximately 70 people gathered at the site of the proposed Porsche dealership Tuesday evening to oppose the tax grant.

Coun. Diane Deans told Council she doubted any councillors who supported the Community Improvement Plan when it was developed in 2019 thought it would support a luxury car dealership.

“I don’t think it fits. I don’t think a clear case has been made that this incentive is required for the Mark Motors project to move forward at all,” said Deans. “I don’t believe there’s a clear community benefit.”

Coun. Riley Brockington, Deans, Jeff Leiper, Carol Anne Meehan, Rick Chiarelli, Theresa Kavanagh, Keith Egli, McKenney and Shawn Menard voted against the tax break for the Porsche dealership.

“It will lead to a $17 million investment on Montreal Road, it will create about 20 jobs in that neigthborhood,” said Mayor Jim Watson.

Watson noted auto dealerships were not excluded from the Community Improvement Plan when approved by committee and Council.

A motion introduced by Watson was approved to use property tax revenue generated by the redevelopment for affordable housing.

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