Dear Editor:

Together with the rest of city council, I welcome interlocutors such as Jon Farmer, who has opined on our approach to both affordable housing and climate change. He does not like our look on either issue.

For the record, Mr. Farmer appeared at Public Question Period at a city council meeting and asked us to develop an affordable housing policy. Now, because housing initiatives fall under the purview of the county, the city properly defers largely to County of Grey on this issue. That is where the grant money is and the expertise. And indeed, between 2015 and 2019, the county administered $4.5 million for affordable housing initiatives within Owen Sound. In addition, the county just approved a 1% levy just for affordable housing (kudos to our deputy mayor for pushing this). That is not meaningless. Can the city do more on top of this? I suspect so. But I repeatedly asked Mr. Farmer by email for specifics: what action would he have us take today in order to make housing more affordable? I like specifics because we don’t have 2 or 3 unemployed researchers sitting around waiting to do these kinds of staff studies. And we certainly don’t have $100,000 or more for yet another consultant. As Mr. Farmer would concede, all he sent me was some links to some other municipalities’ policies. So I ask again – precisely what policy would he have us implement today? What would it cost? Would he add those costs to our budget or would he cut from other areas? If he would cut from other areas, please name them.

As for climate change, if you are going to quote me or any other councillor, it is good to get the quote right. In fact, that is only charitable. At our last council meeting, I expressly stated to the county’s climate change coordinator that most people, myself included, understand the need to pay money to reduce pollution and to mitigate the worst of climate change – such as the reinforcing of the shoreline at Kelso Beach. That is, I support spending money to mitigate the effects of climate change and, contrary to what Mr. Farmer suggests, said so at the council meeting. Where I have trouble (and, as I stressed, my mind is not set in stone on this) is with how much the city should spend now to reduce its tiny carbon emissions as part of a global effort to reduce global warming down the road.

This is the problem known to economists as the tragedy of the commons. As I write, China is building 140 coal energy plants.

It is fair to ask how much our city should pay toward electric vehicles and retrofitting buildings and incentivizing this or that in order to reduce an already tiny number to an even tinier one. I ask Mr. Farmer (as I ask all those who would have the city spend money on this or that) – how much should we spend doing that? And if you have an amount in mind, should that increase our property taxes? And if so, by how much? And if not, what other parts of our budget would you have us cut to make up the difference? These are fair questions and I trust Mr. Farmer can answer them. After all, if someone demands X from the city, it is only fair for city councillors to ask what that X will cost and how the proponent intends to pay for it.

Again, I welcome Mr. Farmer’s responses and I look forward to a developing dialogue with him and others over these issues.


John A. Tamming

Here are Jon Farmer's opinion pieces on housing and climate change.  The video of the presentation to City Council of  the draft Grey County Climate Action is here, beginning at minute 5, with Councillor Tamming's remarks beginning at minute 23.






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