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Steve Lafleur: Extreme heat is already here—We need to learn how to live with it

Commentary

Canada is hot right now. Uncomfortably hot. And it’s not even summer yet. Climate change is often framed as some far-off concern. With forest fires once again burning through Alberta and heat waves mugging Toronto and Vancouver in April, we need to realize that extreme heat is already here. We need to learn how to live with it. 

The last eight years were the hottest on record. That’s a big problem for Canada’s cities, where more than seventy percent of us live. We not only need to ensure our communities can deal with extreme heat but also with second-order effects such as increased flooding and an increased need to house people fleeing natural disasters.

The good news is we do have some control over localized temperatures. That may sound like science fiction, but urban design choices can help keep our communities from overheating. For instance, concrete and asphalt absorb and radiate heat. Conversely, vegetation absorbs heat. The balance of permeable surfaces (e.g. soil) to impermeable surfaces (e.g. paved driveways) helps determine the local temperature. 

It isn’t just what’s on the ground that helps set the temperature, but what’s above. One of the perennial debates in cities is whether we should allow tall buildings that might cast shade on people’s gardens. But shade doesn’t just make it hard for downtown homeowners to grow tomatoes in the backyard. It also keeps people cool. As Anthony Bourdain once said, “Walk on the shady side of the street. The sun is not your friend.” 

The shade doesn’t just directly cool you off by creating a barrier between you and the sun. It also prevents the ground from absorbing that sunlight and radiating heat. The differences in temperature between a concrete jungle and a greener community are no joke. The average air temperature in large and medium North American cities is between one and three degrees hotter than outside of the city, with differences as high as 12 degrees. The difference between 15 and 18 degrees is the difference between sweater and t-shirt weather. The difference between 23 and 26 degrees is, for many, the difference between tolerable and intolerable weather. 

Adding more green space can help make hot days in the city more tolerable. Not only does it have some of the benefits mentioned above by incorporating more shade and impermeable surfaces, but it also gives apartment dwellers somewhere to stretch their legs on a hot day. If you live in a detached house, you can sit in the backyard and enjoy the shade and breeze. Not so if you live in an apartment. If there isn’t adequate green space around, you might not have a way to get outside and remain cool on a hot day. Some people are prisoners in their own homes on hot days. 

Localized heat isn’t the only impact on cities from extreme temperatures. It also comes with worsening flooding, as we’ve seen throughout North America over the last decade. Indeed, while flooding is often thought of as a coastal problem, some of the worst floods have been in the middle of the continent—from Calgary all the way down to Texas. Fortunately, there are ways to adapt.

This brings us back to impermeable surfaces. Not only do they help reduce localized heat, but they help ensure drainage. While water can pool on asphalt, it’s absorbed by soil. If water has nowhere to go, it pools. This doesn’t mean we need to tear up all the streets. But having adequate drainage can be the difference between bad flooding and catastrophic flooding. 

Many cities also need to deal with coastal flooding. Indeed, it’s something many are working on. 

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, New York metro area politicians started thinking more seriously about how to mitigate future floods.  One example is the city’s iconic Battery Park. It’s a beautiful green space at the southern tip of Lower Manhattan that looks out onto the Statue of Liberty. If you’ve watched TV, you’ve seen it. But it’s about to get a major renovation. Part of the park is going to be demolished and rebuilt ten feet higher. It’s a big, controversial project. But it could help protect the area from rising sea levels and storm surges. 

Another example is right here in Toronto. The Port Lands Flood Protection Project is a $1.25 billion project aimed at diverting water from the Don River into Lake Ontario. The price tag might sound hefty, but there are around 80,000 people living in the Waterfront Service Area, and Toronto’s city core anchors a region of seven million people. We can’t afford to let Bay Street flood.

Finally, there’s the matter of housing people affected by natural disasters. Consider the people being evacuated right now in Alberta. They need to live somewhere until they can go home—if they’re lucky enough to have a home to return to. Fortunately, rental vacancy rates are relatively high in Alberta. But the provincial rate decreased from 6.5 percent to 3.7 percent between October of 2021 and October of 2022. If the vacancy rate keeps ticking down, it will get much harder to house people fleeing natural disasters. 

It’s almost unthinkable that a big, rich country like Canada would have a problem housing people displaced by forest fires. But if you’ve lived in a city with chronically low vacancy rates like Toronto or Vancouver, it’s not hard to imagine at all. 

Planning regimes in Canada’s major centers have prioritized preserving the “character” of existing neighbourhoods over allowing more home construction. As a result, it’s getting hard to house existing residents, let alone newcomers. Re-housing more than twenty thousand people in a pinch isn’t easy. Housing scarcity makes it harder. We should choose housing abundance instead.

Climate change isn’t some far-off concern. We have to live with extreme heat right now—whether we like it or not. There aren’t any easy answers. But the sooner we come to grips with the reality of our climate, the sooner we can find solutions. 

Ginny Roth: Poilievre’s winning strategy: Appealing to tried and true common sense

Commentary

“Are you serious?” a wide-eyed, Pierre Poilievre asked the reporter quizzing him about crime and bail reform last week.

Poilievre and the Conservative Party MPs behind him seemed genuinely shocked at the premise of the question. It’s a familiar feeling for many of us. Increasingly, regular people are left shaking their heads, baffled by the latest term they’re expected to use, premise they’re supposed to understand, or public policy trend they’re supposed to accept. It’s not that they don’t get it. It’s that it defies common sense.

In that moment, Poilievre was channeling our collective befuddlement, as the journalist clumsily tried to suggest that keeping repeat, violent criminals behind bars would somehow not prevent more crimes from occurring. The most generous interpretation of the journalist’s line of question is that he was trying to suggest there are root causes that initiate a first-time criminal’s descent into violence. But even if that were his intent (and given his follow-up questions, it seems unlikely), the fact remains that when criminals are in jail, they can’t commit more crimes…because they’re in jail.

Indeed, the data is so compelling that even the Trudeau government is now carrying out some much-needed reform. And yet, the reporter felt the need to carry water for an ideological approach that defies all logic, either because he genuinely believes loose bail policy works, despite the evidence to the contrary, or, more likely, because he’s captured by a new, progressive worldview increasingly dominant in Canadian institutions, including the Parliamentary press gallery, that is completely out of touch with reality. 

It’s hard to define the new bias of elite liberal institutions. Calling it wokeness feels overdone, and maybe a bit cheap. But a week before Poilievre shook his head at the reporter’s ridiculous question, Canada’s prime minister opted to drape himself and his party in the moniker, so it seems as useful a descriptor as any. Whatever it is, you know it when you see it. A contradictory blend of liberal individualism and critical theory, new progressivism puts language before action, identity before community, and future before history. It cancels people, it virtue signals, and it experiments with radical public policy. More importantly, it can be alienating. Woke culture tends to champion what Rob Henderson calls luxury beliefs, views that are alienating in their substance (you’re unlikely to be able to justify defunding the police if you live in a crime-filled neighbourhood), and their language (comprised of a dictionary of new terms that seem to change on a weekly basis).

But railing against wokeness will only get Canadians who oppose it so far. The culture war dynamic has become so predictable as to be boring, and the fact that it often happens online means that regular Canadians, the mainstream normies who will make up most voters in the next election, will need more than just anti-woke railing to capture their attention. Poilievre has landed on exactly the right frame for communicating a positive, alternative worldview, one that doesn’t just oppose wokeness, but that champions good old-fashioned common sense.

Poilievre mastered the anti-woke attack during last year’s Conservative Party leadership race. He called out cancel culture on campus, exposed the hypocrisy of Trudeau’s virtue signalling on climate change, and targeted the government’s out-of-control spending on pet issues while inflation raged. Each attack was accompanied by a detailed alternative policy proposal—free speech protections on campus, approving Canadian oil and gas projects, a pay-as-you-go spending commitment, and many, many more. But the effect was to draw a contrast, to enhance the negative, and to show voters what Poilievre opposed—and for good reason, he was auditioning to be leader of the opposition. Now, as the next general election nears, Poilievre’s challenge is to bring a stronger, positive narrative framework to his policies, and he’s starting to do just that.

In response to Trudeau’s Liberal convention appeal, Poilievre posted a video in his signature, on-the-go selfie style, juxtaposing Trudeau’s woke policies with his own common-sense approach. Where Trudeau would ban hunting rifles, attacking innocent farmers and sport shooters, Poilievre would bring in bail reform, targeting repeat violent criminals. Where Trudeau would support the so-called “safe supply” of harmful addictive drugs, Poilievre would prioritize treatment. Where Trudeau would raise the carbon tax, Poilievre would cancel it, and so on.

Poilievre’s focus on framing his commitments through the lens of common sense isn’t entirely new. He’s railed against the gatekeepers and spoken passionately about the common people for years, peppering his speeches with appeals to the many over the few and revealing a personal vision of a Parliament that serves the people, instead of the other way around. But it wasn’t until recently that Poilievre combined the battle against wokeism with the case for common sense policies for common people, and by doing so, Poilievre takes his online culture war credibility and gives it mainstream, in-real-life appeal.

Poilievre’s common-sense frame does what the left has done so effectively over the last decade—it wrenches open the Overton window on his side of the ideological spectrum. By asserting that his views, while substantive and principled, are common sense, he allies himself with mainstream public opinion. And as the Liberals overplay their progressive hand, hoping no one will notice their experimental policies are failing, his mainstream language resonates. The reason regular people feel so befuddled by wokeism, the reason we all nod our heads when Poilievre asks “Are you serious?” is because, to use a common expression, people don’t like to be urinated on and then told it’s raining. Until recently, dominant voices in the media and the halls of power have successfully made common views out to be radical and their own views out to be reasonable.

Within this frame, conservatives seem like reactionaries. But as liberal elites have become more captured by woke ideology, their values have increasingly become inaccessible to everyday Canadians. By championing bourgeois virtues, speaking to the common people, and appealing to common sense, Poilievre is rejecting that frame and putting himself and his party smack dab in the regular, boring, mainstream centre of Canadian public opinion. And that’s a winning strategy.