Phil Brienesse feels if the Town is serious about following through on their climate emergency declaration, the number one priority should be finding funding for a new staff member to address the issue. (Trevor Hewitt photo)

Former councillor wants Town to do more after declaring climate emergency

Phil Brienesse said he feels the Town should hire a new staff member to address the issue

Sure, the Town is talking the talk regarding declaring a climate emergency.

But are they walking the walk?

One former town councillor says the answer is no.

At the end of council’s Nov. 12 meeting, Phil Brienesse addressed the chamber on the July 9 declaration.

The motion passed 4-3 with support from then-mayor Taylor Bachrach and councillors Gladys Atrill, Greg Brown and Casda Thomas.

Councillors Lorne Benson, John Buikema and Frank Wray voted in opposition.

READ MORE: Smithers Town Council declare climate emergency

Over four months later, Brienesse said while he knows the Town is doing a number of things surrounding the issue of climate change, he is having trouble with the sincerity of the motion.

“If you were to actually have a real emergency, the first thing you would do would be to appoint somebody in charge,” he said.

“So I find it a little disingenuous when the council has managed to find funding for an economic development officer.

“I know part of that comes from a grant, but part of it does come from taxation.”

Brienesse Phil Brienesse — who was elected to Smithers Town Council in 2011 and served until the 2018 municipal election — said if the Town is serious about following through on their declaration (which he added he supports) the number one priority should be finding funding for a new staff member to address the issue.

“They have staff that are experts in their fields and so if climate change is an actual crisis and emergency shouldn’t they have a staff member whose job it is to deal with that?”

While Brienesse said he wants to see the Town take more action, he also acknowledged they have taken climate-conscious steps, such as having staff look at the viability of switching some of the Town’s vehicle fleet over to electric vehicles.

Still, in the grand scheme of things he said he feels they should be doing more.

“When you look at the overall picture it’s low-hanging fruit, it’s baby steps — and we’re at a point now where all the science is telling us baby steps are not enough.

“We don’t even have a reductions target in place, we don’t even have a target of where we would like to get to, so it feels like they made the declaration of climate emergency because somebody asked them and other communities are doing it, but now they need to follow through and they’re falling down on that part of things.”

He said he’s unsure exactly what the title of a new position would be, but pointed out the B.C.-based Community Energy Association (CEA), an independent advisor to local governments on climate and energy, has brought in the position of community energy advisor for other communities.

“That’s the kind of position I’m talking about, somebody who is willing to look at the whole picture and see what’s the best way to go about reducing our CO2 emissions.”

READ MORE: EDITORIAL: If climate is an emergency, act like it

Deputy Mayor Gladys Atrill said she appreciated the comments and where Brienesse was coming from, but added the issue was not as simple as just making a new hire.

“In terms of adding staff … that would be a bigger consideration,” she said.

“First of all that decision wouldn’t be made off the cuff, it would go to a budget decision and there would be staff recommendations, so its a bigger thing to consider.”

Atrill said the issue is one which could potentially be brought up come budget time.

“I think in the interim there are things that I’m hoping as a council we’ll tackle and they’ll come up during the budget process if we’re able to make some changes in some of the operational things that we do.”

She said the Town had not previously considered Brienesse’s suggestion of hiring a new staff member to address the emergency, but she is certainly open to having the discussion come budget time.

“There have been lots of things going on in the organization over the past year,” said Atrill.

“We have a brand new CAO, we just hired a new Director of Finance, so we’ve got lots of things on our plate that we just need to settle on.

“We’re going into budget process so I think right now probably is not the time that I would suggest that we restructure staff in some way … we just have to get the staff settled that we have, give our CAO a chance to look at the organization and also hear what he might want to do.”

The climate emergency declaration came after a request from Thornhill resident Martin Holzbauer at Council’s June 25 meeting.

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