In late April a memo from city staff appeared on the City of Ottawa website describing the results of a study into greenhouse gas emissions within Ottawa’s boundaries.
What follows is the brief tale of how this memo came to see the light of day.
The City of Ottawa has been working on greenhouse gas inventories (GHG inventories) for years, in fact the recent memo represents the third report on the topic. Scuttlebutt had it that the most recent GHG inventory would be released to support either work being done on the ill-fated Choosing our Future effort, or the as-yet-to-be-seen updated Environmental Strategy. Months went by and yet the GHG inventory never appeared.
Perhaps this was because the most recent inventory was a reminder of a few uncomfortable things. Biggest of these is that GHG reduction targets that the City has set for us all are extremely unlikely to be met; more incidental would be that previous inventory studies were flawed and also that hard data is largely non-existent for 1990, the baseline year for the City’s targets, meaning we can’t actually know whether we’re getting near meeting them (spoiler – so far no chance).
No-matter; the point is the GHG inventory results were stubbornly not becoming public.
An acquaintance with experience in these things encouraged me to make a freedom of information request and in January of 2012 I did so.
One aspect of the provincial legislation that governs municipal freedom of information is that cites do not have to release material if that material is to become public within 90 days. The bulk of the material which was the subject of my freedom of information inquiry was deemed to fall into this category and so was withheld.
But that started the clock ticking. Within 90 days something had to be made public.
And thus the memo that appeared as an IPD (curiously meaning Information Previously Distributed) on the Environment Committee agenda for the May 3rd meeting.
As if to emphasize that this material was being reluctantly released, its status on the agenda meant that it did not allow for Councillors to ask questions nor discuss its content or implications. Nor were public delegation’s allowed to express their views (in most cases items coming before committees allow for 5 minute presentations from any member of the public who wishes to chime in).
Thankfully Environment Committee voted to bring the item back at the next meeting (currently scheduled for June 19) where staff will make a presentation on the inventory, Councillors may ask questions, and the public can have their 5 minutes of input.