With the municipal election campaign in full swing, the local environmental group, East Kootenay Climate Hub,  has launched an online candidate survey designed to gauge the opinions of candidates in municipalities and rural electoral areas in the Columbia Valley and indeed right across the East Kootenay region.

The group began sending candidates a series of questions on climate and environmental topics on Saturday, September 10, right after the nomination deadline for candidates on Friday, Sept. 9. The responses were collected, then posted to the East Kootenay Climate Hub website on Monday, October 3, and will continue to be posted there as more answers come in.

“It was a bunch of Climate Hub members who put together the questions, which we felt were relevant to municipalities and to rural areas,”  Climate Hub member, Tracy Flynn, told the Pioneer. “We want to find out what those running for elected office think about a range of climate-related topics.”

Flynn added that environmental topics have come to the fore like never before in recent years, at all levels of government, including the local level.

“A few years ago, it seemed that, politically, nobody was talking about climate change,” she said. “But the climate events of the past few years have made it hard to deny we are having an issue. And hard to deny that it has local effects as well as worldwide and national effects. The sooner we act, the better off we will be. Spending money on solutions now will save us all money — a lot of money — later on.”

When Flynn spoke to the Pioneer on Thursday, Sept. 29, she noted that so far, about a quarter of the candidates had responded to the survey, and then the next day shared data on response numbers by community.

At that time, the survey uptake rate varied quite significantly by community. Radium Hot Springs candidates were the best of any East Kootenay jurisdiction, with a 100 per cent response rate from Radium mayor candidates and a 60 per cent response rate from councillor candidates (in total five of the seven Radium mayor or councillor candidates answered the survey). Invermere was in the mid range of the scale with no mayor responses and 40 per cent of councillors responding (a total of two out of six mayor or councillor Invermere candidates, including one now-withdrawn councillor candidate, answered the survey). Canal Flats was on the low end, with only 50 per cent of mayor candidates answering the question and none of the eight councillor candidates answering (a total of one out of 10 Canal Flats mayor or councillor candidates had answered the survey). The Columbia Valley’s rural areas were at the very bottom, with a grand total of zero responses total. 

“I’m optimistic. At last people are recognizing that something needs to be done,” Flynn told the Pioneer, adding there are multiple funding streams available to help municipalities address climate change.

She added that she hopes the survey helps the public realize there is quite a bit more that can be done locally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to make communities more resilient to extreme weather events that are happening as a result of climate change.    

Voters should know where candidates stand on these topics, said Flynn.
“Sometimes people think, well, Invermere is just a small town, it can’t do much for climate change. But in fact as much as 40 to 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions can be influenced at the municipal level — especially in the areas of building, waste and transportation. Those are the big three. So there are things we can do,” said Flynn. “Some local governments here have already taken some small steps in the right direction and these do add up.”

Flynn noted that climate change ties in with other issues facing municipalities. For instance, in tackling the housing crisis, the valley’s municipalities can also take steps to address climate change by ensuring that any new affordable housing or employee or resident-restricted housing is constructed to the highest Energy STEP Codes standards possible. And in terms of dealing with marginalized people, it’s useful to realize that they often suffer most in climate change-related extreme weather events, such as last summer’s heat dome.

“They are all related,” said Flynn.

The survey answers can be found on the East Kootenay Climate Hub’s website at www.eastkootenayclimatehub.ca/2022localelections.