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Toby Heap Pump runs (rollerblades?) for mayor
late-breaking emergency Toronto politics edition!
Hi! The Toronto mayoral election is TOMORROW! If you’re not in Toronto, this might be worth three minutes anyway, because TOBY HEAPS HAS SOME INTERESTING ELECTRIFICATION IDEAS for cities.
A couple years ago my friend Jessica told me I needed to meet Toby Heaps. She said he was on my frequency, which is a nice way of saying: intense, and full of wild ideas. Jessica had met Toby while profiling him for THIS magazine, when he was the campaign director for Ralph Nader’s 2008 Presidential bid. The profile involved guns being pulled as Toby last-minute raced across LA to get a document notarized so Nader could be on the ballot in Cali. The piece also talks about how Toby has had 28 bikes stolen, because he doesn’t believe in locking them up. As a person who’s never met a door she doesn’t want to leave open, future friend alert!
Last week I finally got to meet Mr. Toby AA Heaps, now running for Mayor of Toronto, alongside his faithful pup, Molly. I have been equal parts hold-my-breath excited and dispirited by our upcoming Mayoral election, a dismal affair in which more people run than actually vote. So needless to say, I was jazzed by Toby’s candidacy.
Part of my gloom about our impending election is derived from the fact that though we have a front-runner with climate bonafides (hooray) in Olivia Chow, innovative thinking around climate (and everything!) is in surprisingly short supply. In Toby, the founder of Corporate Knights magazine, I was hoping for some fresh thoughts around climate and cities. Cities are where we’ll win or lose on climate, and therefore win or lose on everything. Mayors need to make climate their number one priority. Everything else flows from that. Toby’s energy did not disappoint. Here are a few questions from my interview with him on Tuesday.
SL: Big picture, go!
Toby: I don't think Toronto is keeping up, whether it's on climate change, housing affordability, dealing with the homelessness crisis, the state of good repair of public infrastructure, people being stuck in traffic, or transit projects taking longer than it took to put a man on the moon after JFK made his speech in 1963. There's a general inertia that seems to permeate every single thing the city does. And there's a deep-seated and unfit-for-purpose culture that the leadership of City Hall has not updated for decades, which has a bias for the status quo and a bias for permitting anything bad from happening, which means nothing good ever goes forward. I've spent my whole career speeding up good things, even if there are mistakes along the way
.SL: Why throw your hat into the ring at the last minute?
Toby: I have a complete sense of rage for the perverse way the city keeps the streets safe by pouring toxic stuff that causes billions in damage to Toronto's pocketbooks, not just Molly's paws. When the threat was made by the Premier to shut us out of Ontario Place, I couldn't stay on the sidewalk any longer. (SL: agree. Ontario Place is yours, mine, and Molly’s!)
On our city’s growing homelessness crisis (Housing affordability and supportive housing)
It's a huge problem. We need to buy some hotels, retrofit them. We could do that in the next few months if we wanted to. We should equip them as well, with mental health supports. It's hard to find respectable cities in caring countries that allow this to happen. We could solve this relatively quickly, relatively speaking, if we wanted to.
SL: What should we be doing on climate? (Toby’s plan here)
My candidacy has put forward a serious plan that sets the bar for all city councils in Canada. Those aren't my words; those are the words of David Suzuki. How absurd is it that we're in 2023 using 2020 emissions data? That has to be fixed, and there are ways. We really should have real-time emissions data. We know what the traffic flows are through Toronto Hydro. Three-year-old data is unacceptable.
Our emissions are driven by two factors: Burning gas in the half-million buildings, which is two-thirds of the problem. And transportation, which accounts for the other third of emissions. The only way we're going to get off gas is to get off gas. Right now, the city is permitting new builds with gas hookups. Other cities and states don't allow this, because it is a complete hypocrisy, and unnecessary. We need to go forward with the Green Standard of electric transport and electric buildings, and that means moving much, much faster. Households can save up to $5,000 per year. We partnered with the Toronto Star story to show how much you can save (SL: this is awesome! A savings calculator! Check it!)
If you roll the whole thing up for Canada, we could save $65 billion per year. That's real money, it’s anti-inflationary, and it takes us off the rollercoaster cycle. We could achieve 91 million tonnes of carbon emissions reductions, way more than the oil sands.
What do we do as a city? We have limited funds but lots of power over permits. We've put forward a dozen ideas. We have nowhere near the number of electric chargers needed. Instead of 1,000 charges by 2026, we need 10,000. But we don't have to pay; we can do that with RFPs. We can update Toronto Hydro to become carbon-free comfort, with executives paid by KPIs that deliver on that.
There's a tradeoff with innovative things - environmental puritanicals may not like that.
The bane of existence is that people can't park without a parking pad, to protect green spaces. I propose that we update that and allow people to put a parking pad on front lawns, provided that there's a porous surface as a tradeoff, and an EV charger and heat pump (to replace a gas furnace) are installed at the same time.
Anyone who meets these conditions gets a waiver. This would be incredibly popular, and tens of thousands of people would take that up. It would create a more resilient two-way grid and allow them to sell back to the grid when it's expensive. It also provides resilience if the power goes out for a few days.
Reducing renofriction and retrofriction
On the retrofits of buildings, it's the bulk of the $145 billion that the city estimates it will cost to get us on track to meet our goals. In many cases, it's cashflow positive. The city has botched it. These are many-page applications where you get the money after. Not many people have been approved. We should be looking at streamlining applications to one page.
On the permitting side, we would put carbon-cutting projects at the front of the line, fast track them. Whatever you're doing, if it's cutting carbon, you would leapfrog to the front of the line. Time is money and value, and if you're really intentional and clear, it creates huge incentives in terms of time-saving.
SL: Last question. You’re probably not gonna win, so what’s this all about?
I would disagree. I have 100% confidence that we're going to win. We may not win on June 26th, but I'm 100% sure that all these ideas will be implemented. My question is when? Is it in the next 100 days, or is it by 2026? My role is to make sure that the answer is as soon as possible.
Many thanks to Toby for answering these questions with just a few days left in the campaign. Monday is the election, Toronto. Vote!
People dancing: The Toronto Klezmer Jam annual benefit!
Have a lovely week!