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City of Calgary hiring climate change planner; councillor questions timing

WATCH: Calgary’s mayor is defending a decision to hire a city planner specializing in climate change policy as one councilor is criticizing the move in light of deep cuts to the budget. Adam MacVicar reports.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is defending a job posting for a city planner focused on climate change policy as one councillor is openly criticizing the decision in light of deep budget cuts earlier this year.

The “Planner 2 — Climate” position is meant to help with the city’s climate resilience strategy and advise council on ways to implement the strategy and other climate policy into municipal planning and development.

According to city administration, the new position is an existing vacant role at city hall that had been reclassified to focus on planning work related to climate change. The new hire will make between $78,000 and $105,000 per year, as per the city’s website.

READ MORE: Climate change report warns of more extreme weather events in Alberta

The new posting isn’t sitting well with Ward 4 Councillor Sean Chu, who took to Twitter saying the position was a waste of money and. Chu said this isn’t the right time for the city to be hiring in light of a $60-million cut to the operating budget earlier this summer.

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“We’re trying to find efficiencies and cut positions but guess what? We cut whatever hurts you the most, which is safety — police and fire. At the same time we’re going to add one position to create more bureaucracy and red tape,” Chu told Global News on Wednesday. “It’s just wrong in my book.”

Many city departments are still reeling from the budget cuts, including Calgaryfire and police. The cut also means two inner-city swimming pools are slated for closure.

Chu said colleagues he spoke to are “shaking their heads” at the position, but he didn’t say which councillors he was referring to.

“How can we go out there and tell people, [when] thousands and thousands of Calgarians lost their jobs and all of a sudden say, ‘Oh yeah we’re going to hire someone to do this,’ creating more bureaucracy and red tape for something. Who knows what they’re going to do,” Chu said.
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READ MORE: Canada is warming and it’s irreversible. Why is it so hard to care?

Nenshi defended the new planner position on Wednesday, saying it is a necessary hire for the city.

“As we think hard about the kinds of things we’re doing to adapt to climate change, ultimately, we save a tonne of money for the city,” Nenshi said. “So we gotta have some expertise in doing that so we know how to move forward.”

According to the mayor, Calgarians have been vocal that climate change and being resilient through change is a priority.

As for the timing of the hire and any potential backlash received by city hall related to the new position, Nenshi said work still needs to get done.

“We still gotta run the city. If we work simply to shrink then we’ll never meet any of our goals and we’ll never attract businesses like this,” Nenshi said, referring to an announcement at the Energy Disruptors Conference that Finger Food Advanced Technology is adding at least 200 full-time jobs in the city over the next four years.

READ MORE: Canada’s climate change plan among worst in G7: report

Despite the budget cuts, climate experts believe the new position is a position step forward for city hall.

“We’re going to have to factor climate change into every decision we make,” Dr, Joe Vipond said.

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Vipond is the co-chair of the Calgary Climate Hub (CCH) and has been working with and raising awareness about climate change since 2012. He also worked on the Alberta coal phase-out with multiple provincial governments prior to his role at the CCH.

Vipond said the issue of climate change has been neglected for some time in Calgary and he isn’t confident the city will meet its 2020 emission targets, but he supports the new hire.

“We need to be prepared for geophysical impacts like floods, smoke and fires. We also need to be prepared for the economic changes that will be occurring as we transition to a low-carbon economy,” Vipond said. “So it just makes sense to have a specialist who knows this stuff to be advising our municipality.”

Chu said he isn’t against the new position because it specifically pertains to climate change, and said he would react the same way if any other position were posted by the city. He said if the city is really taking climate change seriously, it shouldn’t be one position, but rather a team of people across city administration dedicated to it.