In late November, Orillia gained a new mayor, one who, with deep roots in the community, is bringing his family’s history of public service full circle. Despite being in office for just a few weeks, Mayor Don McIsaac is hitting the ground running. Given his busy schedule, we were delighted that he made time for a quick meeting with us this past week.
Sustainable Orillia wanted to explore the new Mayor’s views on climate change, including Orillia’s Climate Future, the recently published plan. The Mayor quickly confirmed his commitment to protecting the environment and his support for our community climate action plan, both of which were emphasized in his mayoralty campaign.
“I’m passionate about the environment,” said the Mayor. “Protecting it needs to be part of every decision we make.” Climate action is such a broad, existential subject that it isn’t surprising that the conversation ranged over a number of related topics, touching on some of the changes Orillia can make to reduce emissions and waste while ensuring a continued quality of life throughout the community.
By profession, Mayor McIsaac is an accountant and an experienced business leader. He prioritizes measurable goals and results. He offered examples of where words, without the facts to back them up, often miss the mark. Putting his principles into action, he recently helped bolster Orillia’s opposition to the Ontario government’s Bill 23 and proposed development in Ontario’s protected Greenbelt. Specific data—names, numbers and measurable consequences—were added to Orillia’s submission, sharpening the arguments on behalf of the City’s position and providing first-hand insight into Mayor McIsaac’s emphasis on drilling down on essentials.
And what is essential from Mayor Isaac’s perspective?
He began with the role of City Council itself, specifically how it informs itself on environmental issues and how emission reduction and future sustainability are embedded as factors in the decisions they will be making. Mayor McIsaac believes being informed is essential. In keeping with tradition, he has asked individual Councillors to take on specific representation duties, including environmental programs. Newly elected councillor, Janet-Lynne Durnford (Ward 4) has been appointed as Council liaison with the Environmental Advisory Committee, and David Campbell (Ward 1) will continue as Council’s liaison with Sustainable Orillia.
Several other councillors recently—and publicly—have demonstrated their passion for environmental issues, all of which feels like momentum. Change is always a challenge, but the conditions are ripe for this Council to take meaningful stands and decisions in support of our ongoing and future sustainability. Orillia’s new Mayor appears ready to facilitate that change.
The Mayor singled out “education” as another essential strategy to build awareness and influence behavior change. “Start with the schools—young people can see the trajectory and have the ability to influence their parents’ behavior. And make it meaningful for them!” he stressed. Developing a program for in-class presentations is high on Sustainable Orillia’s to-do list for 2023, so it was encouraging to hear the Mayor identify education and young people as critical enablers for positive change.
“Stop talking and start doing!” In many ways, this statement pretty much captures the conversation. It appears to be very much Mayor McIsaac’s mantra and serves well as the third essential for this article. Changing the status quo mindset and embedding accountability to make sustainable differences is no small task. Mayor McIsaac wants it to be as thoughtful and positive as possible, but recognizes that there will be decisions made that won’t please everyone. He is committed to listening, however, and encourages individuals and organizations to become engaged and speak up.
The Mayor had some advice for Sustainable Orillia, as well, which very much reflected the value he places on “speaking plainly and saying what’s important!” Mayor McIsaac encouraged Sustainable Orillia to “sharpen your communications, reach out and meet folks where they are.” He is also encouraging us, along with like-minded counterparts, “to bring forward substantive projects that will make a difference.”
The Mayor’s priority areas have broad capacity to advance Orillia’s climate change agenda over the next four years. How our elected officials make decisions, educating and building awareness in our young people, and “doing the right stuff – big or small” will generate real progress in this battle against climate change and ensure support for the recommendations of Orillia’s Climate Future.
Sustainably speaking, it feels like a strong start for Orillia’s Mayor and new Council. A big thank-you to Mayor McIsaac for his time and support. Sustainable Orillia’s best wishes to the Mayor and Council for a productive and sustainable term to come.