Evidence of meeting #56 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was project.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Robert Savard  Representative, Green School Project, Municipal Councillor, City of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, As an Individual
Andréanne Blais  Biologist, Conseil régional de l'environnement du Centre-du-Québec
John Husk  Member, City Councillor, City of Drummondville, Conseil régional de l'environnement du Centre-du-Québec
Peter Kendall  Executive Director, Earth Rangers
Gord Koch  Instructor, School of Environment, Olds College
Tovah Barocas  Director, Development, Earth Rangers

3:30 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

We'll call the meeting to order.

Welcome, everyone, to our 56th meeting of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. We will continue our study on urban conservation.

I want to welcome the witnesses. We have four groups with us today. Each witness group will receive up to ten minutes for their presentation.

We'll begin with you, Mr. Savard. You have up to ten minutes.

3:30 p.m.

Robert Savard Representative, Green School Project, Municipal Councillor, City of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, As an Individual

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm very happy to be here today to talk about an environmental project.

This project was carried out in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield. It has to do with schoolyards. We wanted to enhance urban areas. So we chose a schoolyard and decided to improve it. The schoolyard was previously completely paved. We developed an environmental project with students, partners and community members.

On the slide, you can see what kind of an idea we had for the project. We met with students. We met with everyone to get ideas, which we used to draw up a plan. That is what's currently on the screen.

The Sacré-Coeur school park is a project to ecologically enhance a paved schoolyard where several partners—institutions, industries, businesses, community organizations, teachers and students—worked together for the first time to create an appealing area that respects the principles of sustainable development.

The miraculous transformation of the Sacré-Coeur school park is a concrete and remarkable initiative in terms of environmental management and local resources—air, soil and water. The project also protects, restores and enhances ecosystems in all its aspects. It is innovative in its participation-based approach, and its scope, appearance and long-term sustainability. It's an example to follow, as the process respects the wishes of every student and member of the public to have a better place to live, more recreational opportunities, and a healthy environment for future generations. The school park is also a great example of a successful partnership with a focus on ecofriendly management and environmental protection from a sustainable development perspective.

The project had a number of goals. One of them was to improve water quality in the Saint-Charles river by preventing runoff. I should mention that the school is located on a St. Lawrence tributary, the Saint-Charles river. We also wanted to improve the well-being of the community. The neighbourhood where the school is located is disadvantaged and had no park. We also wanted to improve on that aspect of the neighbourhood.

Our goal was to create an accessible park for the neighbourhood, and thus decrease school dropout rates. As the children had nothing to do at their school, they did not like it very much. Since the schoolyard was enhanced, the children have been loving their school. That's a good thing. We wanted to bring the community and municipality onside and make them work together. That was a way to increase awareness of environmental problems among the student body and the community. So we have educated young people about protecting the environment.

By the end of the project, we had planted 38 deciduous trees, 34 deciduous bushes and 4 coniferous trees. We had laid down 28,200 ft2 of grass, 805 m3 of wood chips in play areas and 940 m3 of cedar mulch in bioretention areas used to reduce water runoff. Altogether, we ended up with 2,850 m2 of greened space.

You can see what the schoolyard looked like before the work began. As I mentioned, there was previously only asphalt and nothing else in the schoolyard. There were no games for the children. You can now see the bird's-eye view of the plan. It was a very big yard, but it was completely paved.

So we began the work. We created seven bioretention basins for rainwater. I should point out that this was a bit of a delicate operation because we were working in an elementary schoolyard. The school board was concerned that the water would accumulate in the basins and children would drown. So we connected the basins. You can see that drains were installed. All the basins are connected by drains. If one basin absorbs less water, it will be diverted towards the other basins.

We filled the areas with sand, soil and membranes. We did what the architect asked us to do for runoff. We planted trees. We also had help from students. They provided a lot of assistance in the planting of shrubs, trees, flowers and native plants. Fifth-grade students worked on that with us. They really enjoyed the experience. In addition, by using children, we are sure that the plants will stay there longer than a year.

Essentially, by reducing the amount of asphalt and concrete, the heat island effect was reduced. In 10 years time, we estimate that over 50% of the existing area will be covered in vegetation or shaded. We often say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Look at the photos on the screen. Previously, there was nothing but asphalt here. On the left, we created a park and, on the right, you can see that, at the back, we created a small hill using the soil from the bioretention basins we had dug. It's used for sliding during the winter.

We also built a soccer field for the children. On the left, there was asphalt and on the right, with one of the seven bioretention basins, we built a small amphitheatre where children deliver musical performances or stage plays. The outside area is also used for landscaping and shows.

It's often said that, when we work together, we can accomplish great things. This project is a true community success. Several regional industries participated in the project voluntarily, and members of the community helped us out, as did many organizations and all the committees. Salaberry-de-Valleyfield has 148 accredited organizations. We reached out to them, and they helped us raised funds.

Here, you can see the park. Nothing was there before and now, children can have fun in that area. There is a lot of green space. Volunteers from the Grace Canada plant were given a day off to lay down turf. As I explained earlier, the projet included an information component. We explained to them what a bioretention basin was, why trees were being planted and what the issues related to heat islands were. They were educated about the project and about the environment. Here, we also laid down a lot of cedar mulch to help water accumulate.

The children had never seen grass in their yard. On the first day, we were surprised to see children rolling down the hill. That's a game for them, and it's nice to see. Here, you can see the yard and the play facilities from different angles. We have a few other photos. For the winter, we bought crazy carpets for the children because this is, after all, a disadvantaged area. The children use up all their energy on sliding during lunchtime. They have a lot of fun.

Thanks to this project, in May, we received the Joseph-Beaubien award, the most prestigious prize awarded by the Union des municipalités du Québec. We also received a prize from the Réseau québécois de Villes et Villages en santé last September thanks to the green school park initiative. The project has inspired others to action. Last year, two schools undertook a similar project in Beauharnois following my presentation. I have made a number of presentations for certain organizations. The volunteers have worked on two schoolyards in the cities of Salaberry and Beauharnois.

People from Longueuil, Quebec, called me. They came to visit the Sacré-Coeur schoolyard. They have begun working on a project, which will be finished next year.

There are two schoolyards in my sector. I have started working on the second schoolyard. I have already raised funds and found volunteers. These projects lead to others. People are very interested, and their participation is the best aspect. The school board cannot do all this on its own, and neither can the city. Having the help of people from the region is fantastic. Assistance is often most needed in the beginning.

Architects have to be hired to develop a plan. The most difficult part, at first, is having the money needed to draw up a plan. Once that's done, finding sponsors becomes easier.

That was my presentation on the planned green school park project at the Sacré-Coeur school in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield's Champlain neighbourhood. Thank you.

3:40 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you.

The next 10 minutes is for Madame Blais and Monsieur Husk.

3:40 p.m.

Andréanne Blais Biologist, Conseil régional de l'environnement du Centre-du-Québec

Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, ladies and gentlemen members of the committee.

Thank you for having us. We appreciate this opportunity to appear before you today. You have the summary of our brief. That brief will be submitted to you and translated soon.

We represent the Conseil régional de l'environnement du Centre-du-Québec, a non-profit consulting body, whose goal is to promote environmental protection and improvement through sustainable development.

I am also joined by John Husk, City Councillor for the City of Drummondville, who will begin our presentation.

3:40 p.m.

John Husk Member, City Councillor, City of Drummondville, Conseil régional de l'environnement du Centre-du-Québec

Good afternoon, Mr. Chair.

Ladies and gentlemen members of the committee, good afternoon and thank you for having us.

Today, as City Councillor for the City of Drummondville, I am joining the representative from the Conseil régional de l'environnement du Centre-du-Québec to explain to the committee the repercussions of municipal land-use planning on urban conservation.

I will give a little background first. Municipalities are a provincial responsibility under the Canadian Constitution, and the law indicates that municipalities must organize their land-use planning. In addition, in the case of the Drummondville municipality—located 100 km east of Montreal with a population of about 72,000—the municipality garners about 60% to 70% of its revenue from property taxes calculated on the basis of property value. So the land is very valuable for municipalities.

However, over the last two generations in North America and many other places around the world, land-use planning has been based on urban sprawl, as you probably know. For instance, during that period in Quebec, each time the population has increased by 1%, the area occupied by the city has increased by 5%. So there is a strange correlation. That puts tremendous pressure on conservation. Fundamentally, the goal or the best thing for urban conservation is to limit the encroachment of urban areas on conservation areas. The best conservation areas are those left alone.

Therefore, municipalities are trapped in a structure where they must constantly—and quickly—build new neighbourhoods to acquire new revenue and pay for the very expensive infrastructure in older neighbourhoods. That creates something of a vicious cycle, where cities are constantly expanding. So green spaces are constantly being encroached upon.

Clearly, a number of consequences stem from urban sprawl. The first consists of repercussions on urban conservation, as I mentioned. I will spare you a detailed explanation of all the consequences. Nevertheless, Canadians could benefit greatly from better land-use planning. Those benefits include the reduction of atmospheric pollution, better rain water management, food security by limiting the division of agricultural lands, and energy security by reducing oil consumption. It is also a matter of public health, as automobile dependency discourages the use of active transportation and leads to obesity and cardiovascular issues. Improved urban density—the objective of better land-use planning—would encourage the use of public transportation and would, in turn, improve its profitability.

I would like to highlight one specific repercussion of land-use planning—the impact on public finances. Every time a city expands, urban conservation is greatly affected. The building of streets, sidewalks, and waste water and sewer systems costs taxpayers a small fortune. In fact, a report by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities recently revealed—you have perhaps heard about this—that, if all the roads whose state ranges from fair to very poor were replaced at the same time, the cost to Canadian taxpayers would be $91 billion. That is a major impact.

I have some examples of best practices and best land-use planning in Quebec. If you are interested, I will share them with you during the question period.

In closing, if nothing is done to improve land-use planning, urban conservation will always be under pressure. That will be inevitable.

Thank you.

3:45 p.m.

Biologist, Conseil régional de l'environnement du Centre-du-Québec

Andréanne Blais

I will take over.

There are some tools available for land-use planning. I should perhaps explain what we mean by “urban conservation”. To us, that term includes all the interventions, programs and regulations used to limit human impact on green spaces. The order of impact varies from full protection of wetlands, to their enhancement and restoration. So the scope of participation is fairly broad.

In order to support municipalities and other municipal stakeholders—including the Quebec department of natural resources' regional commissions on national resources and land—the Conseil régional de l'environnement du Centre-du-Québec developed a decision-making tool. That tool prioritizes natural areas across the region. It helps municipalities better plan and integrate development schemes with regard to regional county municipalities. This decision-making tool makes it possible to act early in development processes.

The project's goal is to support municipalities in taking into account natural areas early in processes, as I mentioned. It is really about constructively shedding light on the difficult trade-off between conservation and development. The tool has already been taken up by several RCMs and municipalities, including Drummondville, which integrated it into their practices to really shed some light on development.

In addition, the ministère du Développement durable, de l'Environnement, de la Faune et des Parcs used this tool to analyze certificates of approval under the Environment Quality Act, especially when it comes to section 22, which concerns wetlands.

In closing, we would like to share our recommendations.

First, in order to help integrate decision-making tools and enable the implementation of conservation plans, the Conseil régional de l'environnement recommends integrating into the EcoAction Community Funding Program a financial support component for organizations that wish to support municipalities in developing a conservation plan. Funding for planning is currently not part of this program.

Second, it must be ensured that the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk will be renewed and will help collect knowledge in sites with historical records of species at risk. It should also include species in decline and those likely to be designated as threatened. There should also be a budget amount set aside for developing protection measures.

Third, the Government of Canada's Ecological Gifts Program should include no-subdivision and forest conservation easements, which would recognize things like forest management practices that do not go against the International Union for Conservation of Nature's definition of a “protected area”.

The fourth recommendation is to take into account the strategic framework for action of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy.

Mr. Husk will tell you about the fifth recommendation.

3:45 p.m.

Member, City Councillor, City of Drummondville, Conseil régional de l'environnement du Centre-du-Québec

John Husk

Thank you, Ms. Blais.

I will be brief. As I mentioned, we understand that the federal government cannot interfere in the municipalities' land-use planning, which comes under provincial jurisdiction.

However, we recommend that the federal government use its buying power in infrastructure. We are referring to subsidies allocated to provinces. I will share some recommendations found in the guide titled Pour un Québec libéré du pétrole en 2030 CHANGER DE DIRECTION Chantier Aménagement du territoire et transport des personnes. The guide was drafted by the organizations Vivre en ville and Équiterre to help Quebec free itself of its oil dependency by 2030. Its goal is to provide the province with recommendations on how to change the directions it's headed in by focusing on land-use planning and transportation.

We recommend that the government demand that municipalities identify priority investment areas according to pre-established criteria—such as existing infrastructure and expected growth—outside of which the government will not support investments. Funding programs should be eco-conditional—so there should be no development made on agricultural land, wetlands, or areas whose density is too low. No support should be provided for any new infrastructure or increase in road capacity, with the exception of existing infrastructure. We also recommend enhancing the funding for public transportation infrastructure.

Finally, we think it would be a good idea to give money to the FCM'S Green Municipal Fund, specifically for studies on financial assistance and other measures, while taking into account the conservation component—which is not the case currently—to improve land-use planning.

Thank you.

3:50 p.m.

Biologist, Conseil régional de l'environnement du Centre-du-Québec

Andréanne Blais

Thank you for your attention.

3:50 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you.

Next we will hear from Mr. Kendall and Ms. Barocas.

You have up to 10 minutes.

3:50 p.m.

Peter Kendall Executive Director, Earth Rangers

Good afternoon, and thank you for the opportunity to speak before the committee today. I'm Peter Kendall. I'm the executive director of Earth Rangers. I'm joined here today by our director of development, Tovah Barocas.

Earth Rangers is the kids' conservation organization. We're a national NGO, focused on communicating a positive science-based message to children on the importance of protecting biodiversity through our live programs in schools and public venues, an extensive online community, and a daily television presence. We educate several million Canadian children each year and inspire them to become directly involved in protecting animals and their habitats.

In addition to my work at Earth Rangers, I also chair a new organization called the Cornerstone Standards Council and I'm a board member of the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, both of which I'll speak a little bit about later.

The goal of conservation is to maintain healthy ecosystems and the fresh air and clean water they produce. In wilderness areas, this can often be accomplished by preserving large areas of land and letting nature do the work. Unfortunately, it's not as simple in urban areas. Not only do we need to establish protected areas, but we have to actively manage them. This often requires extensive and ongoing restoration work.

One example of this I would like to share with you is at our own home, the Earth Ranger Centre. Our facility is located on 30 acres in the 800-acre Kortright Centre for Conservation in Woodbridge, Ontario. It's a beautiful urban protected area. However, two years ago we conducted a biodiversity survey of our property and found that nearly 90% of our plant biomass was invasive species. This was resulting in lower native species diversity than would have been projected.

With the help of the EcoAction program, we conducted controlled burns, did extensive native replanting, and rebuilt a historic wetland. Not only was this a very expensive program, but the work will have to be repeated on a five-year cycle. However, because of our unique situation, we were able to turn this project into a corporate volunteering program that not only gets the work done, but helps fund our organization and also spreads awareness about invasive species.

Urban conservation must also address the numerous external pressures facing urban environments, including how we handle our waste, energy, transportation, and our buildings. The cost, of course, and competition for land increases this challenge exponentially. In short, in urban areas everything we do has an impact on conservation. So urban conservation itself cannot be accomplished by one level of government or a group alone. To be successful, we need to engage all sectors of society and find innovative ways to work together so that we can address both nature's needs and people's needs.

One such example is a group I mentioned earlier, the Cornerstone Standard Council, or CSC. The CSC is a non-profit organization that's made up of a wide cross-section of aggregate producers and NGOs. We are now focused on creating and promoting a voluntary certification program for socially and environmentally responsible aggregate extraction in Ontario. This will include stronger environmental practices, stringent rehabilitation requirements, and what's proving to be the most controversial principle, responsible siting.

To give you some context for the impact a program like this could have, the best information I could find currently indicates that the aggregate industry in Ontario currently has licences on roughly 170,000 hectares. While it's in no way an apples-to-apples comparison, the NCC, Canada's leading land conservation organization, has protected 17,000 hectares since 1969. The proposed Rouge Park is roughly 6,000 hectares. What's more, this program will be developed for less than $1 million and will be self-financing through industry contributions.

Another good local example of working together is the greenbelt in Toronto. The greenbelt is the result of 30 years of political leadership from all parties, combined with NGO and industry support. It's now considered to be one of the strongest and most successful greenbelts in the world and provides the protection of over 1.8 million acres.

Neither of these programs would have been possible without significant public engagement. How do we generate this type of engagement? At Earth Rangers, we believe the best audience to start with is children. In a recent U.K. study, 24% of parents cited children as their key motivator on sustainability and concluded that children are more powerful in getting environmental ideas across than either politicians or the media. So how do you get children more engaged in conservation?

In 2009 we did a major study across North America with 8- to 12-year-olds to look at this very question. The first thing we found was that the children's number one concern was endangered animals and their habitats. This was not surprising. Interestingly, however, they went on to say that they were tired of being told to turn off the water when they brushed their teeth and turn off the lights when they left the room. They wanted to get involved in ways that had a direct impact on helping animals. For kids, education and small actions are not enough to produce a conservation ethic. They really need to see those tangible results.

To respond to this, Earth Rangers launched a new program called Bring Back the Wild. This program allows children to become involved, primarily through fundraising, in one of the conservation programs we're working on across Canada.

This year's programs include supporting Environment Canada scientists studying the impact of climate change on polar bears, rebuilding habitat in the Southern Norfolk Sand Plain for American badgers, creating a wetland in Vancouver and reintroducing the Oregon spotted frog, and acquiring land and studying the migration patterns of wood thrush in Quebec.

Since we launched this program in 2010, nearly 250,000 children have joined us in these efforts and have collectively raised close to a million dollars for these projects. But it's not just about the dollars raised. The real impact of these programs can best be understood through the letters we receive almost daily from children and parents across the country.

I want to share a letter we recently received from the parent of Grayson, one of our newest Earth Ranger members in Manitoba:

This program is such a wonderful opportunity for kids to get involved with their environment and learn a lot about it. Grayson is only 6 but has such drive. He hates seeing litter and says, “I want my revenge on them!” We couldn't be more proud!! I think this will become a yearly thing for us. It allowed us as a family to get together and learn about the wood thrush and teach very valuable lessons to our son.

And children are not alone in this desire to take meaningful action. To drive long-term change, programs need to have very direct outcomes, and we need to do a better job of celebrating their success.

This brings me to my recommendations for the role the federal government can play in urban conservation.

First, I think it's very important that you “walk the talk” yourself and ensure leading stewardship of your own lands and buildings in urban areas. Protecting and maintaining federal lands is an important component of respecting the investment of Canadian taxpayers.

Second is to encourage and support innovative collaborations through your funding programs. EcoAction is actually a great example of this. Focus on projects that will demonstrate direct, positive outcomes and will not require long-term government funding, but instead are projects for which your contributions will help their efforts to become sustainable.

Finally, and almost most important to me, is to celebrate success. People, I think, are tired of negative environmental messaging and the characterization of Canada as an environmental laggard. Canadians are world leaders in conservation. This is often overlooked. We built the world's first national park service. We have protected more than 12.4 million hectares. And we've developed innovative partnerships, such as the Boreal Forest Agreement and CFC. Canadians need to celebrate the success and feel empowered to make a difference, because we have plenty to be proud of.

Thank you. I'd be pleased to respond to any questions.

3:55 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you very much.

We'll now hear from Mr. Koch, instructor in the School of Environment at Olds College.

You have 10 minutes to share with us your views about urban conservation.

I think back to our visit to Olds College. It was in the springtime. A number of us on the committee enjoyed our visit there. We didn't meet you at the time, but we heard lots of good things about you.

If you would, please share with us. You have 10 minutes.

4 p.m.

Gord Koch Instructor, School of Environment, Olds College

Thank you very much.

Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting Olds College to appear before the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development on its study examining urban conservation practices in Canada.

My name is Gord Koch. l'm a faculty member with the School of Environment. For the past 12 years at the college, I have delivered courses related to landscape design, management, and implementation, with a focus on best management practices related to sustainable landscapes. Prior to joining the college, I spent just under 30 years in landscape planning, management, and implementation of projects, primarily in residential community and parks development in the Toronto and Calgary areas.

Within the context of this invitation by the committee and on behalf of Olds College, I am providing a perspective on urban conservation as it relates to the development and delivery of programs and courses at the college, coupled with the values and principles promoted at the institution.

Olds College will be celebrating its centennial in 2013, marking 100 years of quality education and training. Over the past century, Olds College has contributed to successful careers for many generations of learners. With pride, the college can link the values that underpinned the first course offerings of the Olds School of Agriculture and Home Economics in 1913 with those reflected in courses offered today. We're located about 95 kilometres north of Calgary and 60 kilometres south of Red Deer, so we're on the golden corridor, so to speak.

The college awards certificates, diplomas, applied degrees, and bachelor degrees designed to meet the needs of both learners and the communities served by this college. Olds College programs offer learning opportunities in agriculture, horticulture, land and water resource management, animal science, business, fashion technology, and apprenticeship training. The college works with industry partners and clients to develop and deliver a range of training programs and products designed to meet desired specifications. These outreach services are offered throughout the province of Alberta, across Canada, and internationally.

The School of Environment offers programs in several key areas. We have land-based programs, which include land agent, environmental stewardship, and land reclamation programs. Our horticulture-based programs include arboriculture, landscape management, production horticulture, and golf course management.

The college, and specifically the School of Environment, have been and continue to be placed in a unique position of bridging not only the rural and urban fabric, but also rural urban centres and metropolitan urban centres—in other words, small town and big city. The content of the programs and their alignment with stakeholder needs in industry and the public sector lend to and emphasize aspects from the subject of urban conservation.

When one seeks to find information related to urban conservation, the breadth and depth of this subject is far-reaching and varied. Whether the focus is safe water supply and quality, protecting and enhancing biodiversity, and/or evolving technologies related to maintenance and operation of infrastructure services, many aspects may or will fall under the urban conservation umbrella.

Certainly, various stakeholders and interest groups will leverage those aspects that align with proposed goals and outcomes for each party, so a question that can be posed is: is it about urban conservation, restoration, preservation, replication, or all of the aforementioned? The college's School of Environment aligns its programs with social, economic, and environmental measurables as they relate to each of the content areas.

More specifically, in terms of ecosystem services, this would include soils, water, vegetation, materials, health, and well-being. Through these filters, various industry sector developments can be assessed at pre-development, development implementation, and post-development stages. Within the urban context, this includes programming and courses that deliver and promote best management practices in the areas of low-impact development, diverse ecosystems, and healthy environments.

Through the college's ongoing partnerships with provincial and federal agencies, in addition to the school's collaboration with its several industry advisory committees and associations, Olds College has provided, and continues to provide, students and stakeholders with the avenues and tools necessary to provide progressive processes and protocols that contribute, establish, maintain, and promote attributes that can be considered as aligned with urban conservation.

That is our briefing. We will certainly entertain questions as this moves on.

4:05 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you very much.

We will begin our seven-minute rounds of questioning with Mr. Lunney.

4:05 p.m.


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to be the first to welcome the witnesses and thank them all for their contributions to our study of urban conservation.

I would like to start with our first presenter, Monsieur Savard.

I want to congratulate you on your good work and on this success.

Let me switch back to English.

4:05 p.m.

An hon. member

Well done.

4:05 p.m.


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

I think I got in my six words en français.

4:05 p.m.

Representative, Green School Project, Municipal Councillor, City of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, As an Individual

Robert Savard

Thank you, Mr. Lunney.

4:05 p.m.


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

I'd like to congratulate you for the success and the awards that your project has attracted.

You just gave us a nice example of schoolyard naturalization and the benefits to the community. Can you give us a timeframe? When did this project actually get started, and how long did it take to work through the process?

4:05 p.m.

Representative, Green School Project, Municipal Councillor, City of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, As an Individual

Robert Savard

I began the project about four years ago. The most difficult part was finding partners. In fact, if we had paid for the project, it would have cost nearly half a million dollars. However, I only had $30,000 at my disposal.

The first step consisted in determining whether people and industries would get involved and whether they wanted to take on a project of this size. During the first year, we relied on word of mouth. We talked to people about the project.

I am also very involved—sometimes as chair—in a number of environmental committees in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, including the St. Lawrence committee, the ZIP committee, and committees on industrial parks.

When I started talking about the project, people were interested in participating, in doing their part, in injecting money into the projects or in providing labour. So during the first year, we relied on word of mouth.

In the second year, I recruited organizations from Salaberry-de-Valleyfield. We have some community organizations and some environmental organizations. There are some others, such as PRAQ—Pour un réseau actif dans nos quartiers—which is involved in the revitalization of older neighbourhoods. I really surrounded myself with organizations to obtain environmental grants, and other kinds of grants.

In the third year, we began meeting with people from the neighbourhood. We met with students, teachers—everyone—to figure out what kind of “green space”—or environmental space—they wanted in their schoolyard. We spent a whole year finding out what all those people thought.

In the fourth year, we initiated the program. That was great. We completed the project in one summer. It was difficult because, many of the volunteers were construction workers, so we wanted to use their services during the two months of summer and not during the two weeks of construction holidays. It took a lot of management, but it went really well.

4:05 p.m.


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

What I find particularly appealing about the way you managed this was that first there was a lot of planning involved in consultation. There's an old axiom: to fail to plan is to plan to fail, so plan the work and work the plan. That's the English version, anyway.

I am impressed, and I just wondered.... When you engaged the community, it was time-consuming working with volunteers—I heard a little bit of frustration there—in organizing their availability and time, and especially, probably, with some of the professionals with heavy equipment and so on, who all have schedules.

But it seems to me that you had tremendous community buy-in. In other words, they have ownership of the project right throughout the community, and pride of ownership. I think there's something tremendously value-added through that approach, as painful as it would be. Would you verify that experience?

4:10 p.m.

Representative, Green School Project, Municipal Councillor, City of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, As an Individual

4:10 p.m.


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

We heard earlier in our committee hearings from a gentleman named Adam Bienenstock, the founder of a company that specializes in naturalizing schoolyards and so on. They talk about nature deficit disorder and about the impact that playing in a natural environment has on children. Is that something you'd be able to comment on from your experience?

4:10 p.m.

Representative, Green School Project, Municipal Councillor, City of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, As an Individual

Robert Savard

Given my experience, it's true that it was difficult to set the project in motion at some point.

Earlier, you asked whether the community was involved. It's a matter of selling the project and finding people. We had the support of the city of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield in terms of communications, and local newspapers gave us a lot of support. That was a real strength. People really supported the project. When community members saw how their schoolyard would look at the end of the project, some even came to me with envelopes of money. I told them to not bring them to me, as I am a politician, after all. I asked them to bring any money to the school. One fellow even made bird houses to be placed into the trees. He worked very hard on making them. The community was quick to get involved.

As for managing a project of this size, I had no experience with that and no idea of how to manage entrepreneurs. However, Anne Bouthillier, of PRAQ, took over and managed all the work. So I had a lot of support in carrying out this project.

You mentioned that some people specialize in schoolyards. I have no expertise in that area, but we were able to complete such a project. The key to success is to believe in your project and in the benefits for the children. My spouse works at this school and told me that, since we converted the schoolyard, the children's aggressiveness has been reduced by more than half. The children use up a lot of energy in the yard. They talk about trees because they now know their names. They are involved. As my colleagues mentioned here, children's ability to pass on environmental information is considerable. It's sometimes difficult to change the minds of people of a certain age who have always watered their front lawn with a garden hose, but when children talk about this, it works. One of the goals of converting schoolyards is to educate children, so that they can in turn educate parents.

Here is what our project has led to. On the other side of the river, a project is supposed to be set in motion. It was decided that this project would meet LEED standards. So it will be an entirely green project across from the schoolyard. There's really been a series of green projects, simply because we converted one schoolyard—

4:10 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you very much. Your time has expired.

Madame Quach, seven minutes.

4:10 p.m.


Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Thank you.

Thank you for coming to share your experience and provide some advice.

Mr. Savard, I am really spellbound. I'm glad you agreed to come meet with us. You are a pioneer in urban conservation in our riding, Beauharnois—Salaberry. You said that this project has inspired a number of other regions.

It was just mentioned that the environment is a priority for Canadians. Climate change is currently being discussed at the Doha conference. Regarding the impact on young people, you talked about a decrease in aggressiveness of about 50%.

Are there any other socioeconomical or energy benefits? We talked about health impacts. Have you noticed anything like that? You said that there has also been a positive impact on other infrastructure, as your project has inspired other environmental projects.

Given all those benefits, how can the federal government support and promote those types of projects across the country to contribute to the fight against climate change?