Green-shaming on smoking rules

(Coun. Matt Wren (File Photo)

Brockville council may have given us its first instance of tactical green-shaming, and it was a thing to behold.

And one result may be a crackdown on vehicles needlessly idling in Brockville, which would be a genuinely green outcome, not to mention the envy of Rockport.

At Tuesday’s meeting of council’s planning and operations committee, Coun. Cameron Wales introduced a motion calling on staff to provide a report on idling in city vehicles later this year.

Since needless idling is a source of unwanted (meaning unnecessary) climate-threatening emissions, it makes sense at least to study possible ways to reduce or eliminate it.

But one is left to wonder if the genesis of Wales’s laudable motion was an exchange, a week earlier, over revisions to the city bylaw regulating smoking and vaping, changes required to accommodate the legalization of cannabis.

During last week’s debate, Coun. Larry Journal sought to tighten these restrictions by also banning smoking on sidewalks and parking lots.

Coun. Matt Wren, who backed the tougher measures, leaned on a previous council motion declaring the city's "renewed commitment to a healthy environment," and its insistence that Brockvillians should be able to breathe clean air.

The irony was palpable, given Wren’s vociferous opposition to that green motion’s initial iteration. Fine, then, he was essentially saying, if you really think the right to breathable air is a thing, then you have to fight second-hand smoke.

All of which put Coun. Cameron Wales, the author of the environmental motion, in a bit of a tight spot. He opposed extending smoking and vaping rules, arguing the current rules are enough.

"I certainly understand the desire to make sure that people can breathe clean air in the city," he said. "I think that the bylaw as written does that."

While ironically welcoming the “continued shout-outs for the environmental declaration that was passed,” Wales questioned why smoking on sidewalks did not become an issue until cannabis became legal.

“It is a fairly sweeping change to the way that we do things and I think it is being made because the smoking of cannabis is now permitted,” said Wales.

“It’s not just about smoking tobacco.”

A lot might be read into this discussion, including the following: That two councillors who are hawkish on cannabis restrictions had just used an environmental declaration to push that hawkish view, essentially green-shaming, while the author of the environmental motion questioned their motives.

A gentler reading might give Wren and Journal the benefit of the doubt, and ascribe to them equal measures of concern about cannabis and tobacco, when given the opportunity to argue for tougher rules.

While the matter of the smoking bylaw is coming back to council for a final vote as early as next week, it seems like the hawks have yet to command a majority of votes.

But Mayor Jason Baker did have one last shout-out for the green declaration, saying the smoking discussion showed how council is taking the declaration on a healthy environment seriously.

"It didn't mean that it would be the standing guideline that would dictate everything we did. We had a conversation around those principles and they were front of mind," said the mayor.

So front of mind, in fact, that Wales felt it necessary to return, a week later, with another green idea to reconfirm his commitment to his own declaration, without having to kick smokers of legal weed off the curb.

(UPDATE: Wales has responded that his idling motion was brought up as a result of a constituent's concerns, and any appreciation of the shout-outs should be read "unironically.")