Vilification 101

At a special council meeting Wednesday night Ward 3 Councillor Maggie Laidlaw stated that Ward 1 Councillor Bob Bell was “presuming low income people don’t care about the environment” — Rogers TV coverage at 3:15.

That, for suggesting that those taking advantage of a rebate program intended to “incentivize” households to undertake water conservation measures are for the most part financially able to afford to pay full price, and for questioning how many lower-income households take advantage of rebates, which are available for purchasing rain barrels, front-load washing machines, and low-flow toilets — Rogers TV coverage at 3:12.

Coun. Bell’s comments followed and seem were in response to Ward 3 Coun. June Hofland’s speculation that changes to the rebate would impact lower-income individuals and families — Rogers TV coverage at 2:54.

This, despite the absence of data at the meeting of how many lower-income households actually do participate in the program, or more pertinent for the purpose of the rebate, how many lower-income households are “incentivized” to change their toliets because of it.

Vilification 101. It’s exactly what we need to move on from.

And unfortunately, Mayor Farbridge didn’t acknowledge the limitations of the data regarding the effectiveness of the rebate — which could have been tested, verified by modifying it. We don’t actually know how many of us who take advantage of the rebate are actually motivated to change their toilets because of it.

Specific data, please.

Saving $75 a toilet isn’t actually what the program is about, as I understand it. It’s about motivating people to change their toilets to low consumption.

Nor was the Mayor willing to acknowledge that if the City signalled that the program will be cancelled it could in fact drive behaviour to have toilets changed.

In fact, announcing that the program was going to be dropped could have had the outcome of actually driving more up-take, it could have actually led to speeding up the time when we expect to reach what was referred to as “peak toilet”, the point where there is program saturation.

THAT may have driven action, THAT may have been effective towards “decoupling” the city’s population size and growth from water consumption.

THAT may have led to the intended outcomes for the program, sooner. Which would have been more impactful when it comes to water conservation.

So, Mayor Farbridge, you spoke of this program being evidence-based — but at the end of the day you really don’t know how impactful this program is when it comes to what matters, in driving change — in driving water conservation, now — which is what supposed to be about.

Was it impactful, sure. Is it time to ask if it is operating as intended, or whether it is happening in the way it was intended? Why not?

But it seems we’re stuck in our thinking when it comes to possible alternatives that may lead to better outcomes.

Of course we all care about our groundwater. And that is what the discussion is now supposed to be about, only, it’s not. It’s about maintaining a pet program. Not asking if the assumptions about it hold true.

If you are against the toilet rebate you are against conservation. And against evidence-based policies.

And if you don’t support the program, you don’t understand how it will impact lower-income individuals and families — no data there, but that doesn’t matter — and if you question it, you are someone who thinks lower-income individuals and families don’t care about the environment.

Which is using lower-income individuals and families. It’s using them in an arrogant, self-serving kind of way, and it is disgraceful.

So, very honestly, Coun. Laidlaw owes an apology to Coun. Bell and to the very community that she was using to score political points.

And more, in the spirit of not vilifying others, I’m guessing both Coun. Laidlaw and the Mayor would agree.

At any rate, thank you to Coun. Gloria Kovach for once more launching the discussion, as well as for comments from Councillors Bell and Cam Guthrie.

About Craig Chamberlain

Ward 3 Guelph resident, dad and step-dad.
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