If you ask Winnipeggers whether they want to pay property taxes, few would say yes.

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This article was published 11/2/2016 (1952 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

If you ask Winnipeggers whether they want to pay property taxes, few would say yes.

But if you ask whether they want their streets clear of snow and patrolled by police, almost all would agree.

Property taxes pay for policing and snow-clearing. You can’t have the latter without the former.

This is why it’s important how cities frame a question about municipal services when they engage in public consultation, a practice that far too often involves governments going out and receiving the justification they desire for making one policy decision or another.

In the coming weeks, the city will ask Winnipeggers what form of organic-waste collection they would like to see. 

The bare-bones version of this program would see the city pick up fruit-and-veggie scraps for an additional cost of $55 to $65 a year per home. Adding meat and dairy byproducts would beef up the price to $60 to $70 but would result in a far greater environmental benefit. Adding pet waste to the stream would create a so-called Cadillac service that would cost an additional $90 to $100 for a slightly greater environmental benefit.

So far, Winnipeg’s solid-waste managers have done a good job laying out the options. After conducting surveys that suggest Winnipeggers desire organic-waste collection, they’re about to re-gauge this support now that residents know more about the benefits and costs.

Members of city council, however, are already undermining this process by suggesting the city should also find out whether Winnipeggers want organic-waste collection in the first place.

St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes was the first out of the gate last week, when he said Winnipeg ought to consider a fourth organic-waste-collection option: no collection at all. Mayes is city council’s environment boss.

Then on Wednesday, Mayor Brian Bowman said while he personally supports the idea of organic-waste collection, residents of this city will ultimately make the call.

"We need to hear from Winnipeggers — whether and how they would like to proceed with a potential organics composting,’ Bowman said.

This is not how municipal leaders set priorities. While public consultation about the nature of Winnipeg’s organic-waste collection is necessary, politicians should not leave the existence of the program up to a mob vote.

For starters, Winnipeg already agreed to pursue organic-waste collection in 2011, when council approved a long-term waste-reduction strategy. But this is not just about honouring a commitment.

The fact is, Winnipeg is the largest city in Canada that either doesn’t collect organic waste or has never even tried to collect it. Winnipeg lags behind every other major municipality when it comes to one of the most effective moves a city can make to meet its climate-change commitments.

What does organic waste have to do with climate change? Everything. Organic waste from the majority of Winnipeg households who don’t engage in backyard composting winds up in the Brady Road Landfill.

At the landfill, your coffee grounds, meat scraps and spoiled carrots decompose underground, where there’s no oxygen. This anaerobic decomposition generates methane, which is about 21 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, the byproduct of decomposition above ground.

Cities, on their own, can’t do very much to combat climate change. The easiest way to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is to divert organic waste from landfills, which spend decades burping methane into the air.

In fact, the Brady Road Landfill is Manitoba’s second-worst polluter when it comes to individual sources of greenhouse gases. Only Brandon’s Koch Fertilizer plant generates more GHGs.

That’s why it’s disappointing to hear Winnipeg’s mayor and council’s environment boss suggest they’re going to let Winnipeggers decide whether the city should bother to make the most effective move it could make to reduce greenhouse gases.

You don’t see council ask Winnipeggers whether they want to remove phosphorus from city waste water. That’s because this is a mandatory requirement of the provincial environmental licence to pour treated waste water into the Red River.

There will come a time when either the province or the feds will require landfills to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The city must get ahead of this rather than pretend this is some luxury service residents can veto.

Yes, the new service poses a budget headache. Either make it a priority or don’t — but don’t pretend you’re not the one making the call.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca