Jack Layton visits Cowtown

By Kirstin Morrell

Cynics might say an official New Democrats Party visit to Calgary could only be a campaign pit stop or a desperate ploy by a party in trouble. However, with no election in sight and the NDP doing better at the federal level than they have in 16 years, the NDP might be taking Alberta seriously.

On St. Patrick’s Day, Jack Layton did just that. While other Calgarians were drinking green beer, he spoke to Young Environmental Professionals Calgary about innovative and affordable ways to reduce urban impact on the environment.

Layton’s interest in environmental issues started in the 1960s, when his home town of Hudson, Quebec voted to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides.

“It was a group of women who were concerned about the asthmatic condition of their children,” Layton said. “They had no professional experience; they just went out and got a petition on the go. At that point, the pesticide industry recruited two local lawn care companies to attack the Hudson bylaw.”

It was not just the pesticide producers who benefitted from the use of lawn chemicals; the pharmaceutical industry also cashed in on the treatment of associated respiratory problems.

“It went all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada and Hudson won,” he said, noting it was the best possible situation, as the industry then had to come up with ways to care for people’s lawns which were ultimately safer and more beneficial for the community.

Combining environmental and economic concerns was a topic Layton returned to often.

“Don’t accept the proposition that what’s good for the environment is going to be bad for business or destroy jobs,” he said. In 1974, Canada was a world leader in wind power, Layton explained, but did not keep up with the technology. Now Canada is forced to buy wind turbine hardware from places like Denmark and northern Europe.

“The sooner we can catch up, the better, which is why we’re proposing 10,000 wind turbines in Canada by 2010. It’s entirely possible to do.”

Layton is optimistic about the Kyoto Accord, and said the NDP has put together a plan to meet Canada’s emissions targets, while working with business to maximize job creation and staying out of debt.

“We often forget about the energy content of water,” he said. “Grab a toilet full of water in a bucket at a lake, and walk with it to your house. Begin to imagine the work that is involved in the movement of water. The pumping, the treatment, then later the cleansing of the water. The amount of energy involved in water is enormous.”

Layton then told the audience about a Toronto proposal to upgrade their sewage treatment plant, needed because of rapid expansion of the suburbs, at a cost of millions. He asked the council if they had priced out how much it would cost to replace every toilet in Toronto with the newest efficient models.

Council did the calculations, and discovered it would be cheaper. Soon, a pilot project was underway to replace toilets in apartment buildings, at no cost to the property owners. Toronto is now nearing its 1,000,000th toilet replacement. Layton hopes to use this kind of unconventional thinking to meet the Kyoto targets.

“There are examples of policy initiatives that can produce very positive results,” said Layton. “This is absolutely the case with Kyoto.”

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