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Nanaimo council decides city will be guided by ‘doughnut’ economic model

Councillor says Nanaimo first city in Canada to adopt the model as a guiding principle
Nanaimo city council voted to adopt the ‘doughnut’ economic model as a guiding principle for all city initiatives and planning. (Stock photo)

The City of Nanaimo has a strategic vision and other guiding documents, but from now on, all decisions need to fit into a ‘doughnut’ economy.

City council, at a special meeting Monday, voted 5-4 in favour of Coun. Ben Geselbracht’s motion to adopt the doughnut economic model “as a cohesive vision for all city initiatives and planning processes.”

Geselbracht posted on social media that Nanaimo is the first Canadian city to adopt doughnut economics as a vision and framework.

The doughnut model, according to a city staff report, challenges economies to meet and exceed “minimum global living standards” and equity, while “avoiding pushing beyond our ecological limits.” The idea is that the doughnut represents the sweet spot – “the safe and just space for humanity” between a social foundation on the inner edge of the doughnut and an ecological ceiling on the outer edge. Geselbracht’s motion calls for a “city portrait” to be created, with measurable social and environmental indicators and targets so the city can track its progress.

Staff’s report did not include recommendations, but noted a few different ways staff could incorporate the doughnut framework into council’s strategic plan, the Reimagine Nanaimo planning process and the environment committee’s work plan.

“The doughnut economy provides a very clear understanding of what the relationship is [with] the environment and what we have to do in terms of living within the means of the planet and also the basic foundation that we need to meet as a community to provide health and well-being to our citizens,” Geselbracht said.

The concept had been previously discussed at a city governance and priorities meeting, but councillors remained divided.

“I know some people are very strongly in favour of it, some people think it’s meaningless drivel. Everybody has their opinion,” said Coun. Ian Thorpe.

He said the doughnut model is unbalanced with a focus on environmental concerns, and said it would be better suited as a guiding principle for the environment committee’s work, not for all city decision-making.

“Although it’s called an economic model, it seems to have nothing to do with GDP economics and that’s my main concern…” Thorpe said. “It is, from what I’ve read, a very left-wing philosophy which basically says that business is bad, growth is bad, development’s bad, we want to focus just on social and environmental priorities. Well, I’m all in favour of being responsible for the environment, but I think there has to be a balance.”

Coun. Tyler Brown rebutted, saying it’s clear that humans’ actions are not in balance with the Earth.

“So to dispute that and say that this model is out of balance, I would say that’s completely incorrect because the current model is out of balance,” Brown said.

He added that he thinks people want leadership from city council on setting a vision “across many different domains” and said that’s what the doughnut economic model can do.

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said she’d heard from urban planners who suggested the City of Nanaimo should be looking at an alternate sustainable development model, Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI). She noted Victoria, Saanich and Vancouver are ICLEI members and said it’s a proven model that would meet Nanaimo’s needs and come with supports, and wondered why the city would instead choose a model no other Canadian city has adopted.

“Because we like to be different, because we like to be leaders and just because nobody else is doing it in Canada doesn’t mean this isn’t the right framework and the right approach,” said Coun. Zeni Maartman.

Mayor Leonard Krog was most concerned with process, saying council should wait for a staff report on how the strategic plan could be amended to incorporate the doughnut economic framework.

“We are in the middle of the Reimagine Nanaimo process which is involving a great deal many more people than sit around this council table and I think it’s appropriate that it be referred accordingly,” Krog said.

However, council voted against referring the doughnut model to the economic development task force, preferring an immediate vote. Geselbracht suggested council members who disagreed with his position hadn’t done enough research, and Coun. Erin Hemmens pointed out that staff had indicated that the doughnut model could fit into existing work plans.

“The problem is that we have finite resources to take care of all the people on Earth…” she said. “Here’s a model we could use to basically pull apart this huge, complex question we’re wrestling with.”

The motion to adopt the doughnut economic model as a cohesive vision for all city initiatives and planning passed 5-4 with Krog, Thorpe, Armstrong and Coun. Jim Turley opposed.

READ ALSO: Island economic summit panellists discuss sustainability based on ‘doughnut’ model

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About the Author: Greg Sakaki

I have been in the community newspaper business for two decades, all of those years with Black Press Media.
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