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Vancouver's climate plan is meant to cut the city’s current carbon pollution in half by 2030 by requiring more energy-efficient buildings and reducing the use of fossil fuels in transportation.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

A proposal to require parking permits for residential parking on any street in Vancouver is facing major public backlash and a lot of uncertainty about whether it will be approved in a vote Tuesday that’s likely to be very close.

City councillors say they’re seeing unusually strong and negative public reaction to the proposal – one of the first steps in a massive climate plan, which promotes less driving of gas-powered vehicles in favour of transit, walking, cycling or electric cars.

The city’s engineering department put forward a plan to charge all residents with a car on the street at least $45 a year for a parking permit. The rates for what are defined as medium- or high-polluting vehicles in 2023 models and later would be $500 and $1,000 annually.

The idea is to discourage people from buying higher-polluting vehicles, make the point to everyone that public land isn’t free, and raise as much as $72-million in 10 years to pay for other parts of the climate plan.

“I’ve never seen such a high response on an issue,” said independent councillor Lisa Dominato, who said people have called it everything from a tax grab to an anti-family fee.

Green Party councillors Pete Fry and Adriane Carr, independent Sarah Kirby-Yung, and OneCity councillor Christine Boyle also say they’re seeing an exceptionally high level of messages from the public, most of them negative.

That’s on top of what people said through city questionnaires and polls. Around 19,000 people responded to a city survey through its Talk Vancouver system about the permits plan, with 80 per cent saying they disapproved of it. Other surveys done through a market-research firm showed more support but not more than 50 per cent.

The issue has even Mayor Kennedy Stewart expressing doubts about the plan – something that could swing the vote, since tight budget and climate votes have often come out at 6-5, when the mayor has aligned with the Green and left parties on his council against five other councillors who were originally elected on the centre-right Non-Partisan Association slate. (Four of them now sit as independents.)

Mr. Stewart has concerns “about how the proposed fees would impact tradespeople and middle- to low-income residents who would not be able to avoid the new parking charges,” said an e-mail message sent through his office staff. “Climate change is already having a disproportionately negative impact on middle- and low-income families and we have to ensure all our solutions reflect this reality.”

Mr. Stewart portrayed himself as a climate champion when he was campaigning for election in 2018 and was arrested while protesting the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline in Burnaby that year.

The city’s climate plan is meant to cut the city’s current carbon pollution in half by 2030 by requiring more energy-efficient buildings and reducing the use of fossil fuels in transportation.

Mr. Stewart‘s concerns with the parking proposal are similar to those raised by councillors such as Ms. Dominato and Ms. Kirby-Yung, which they say means they’re not going to support the proposal.

The public response hasn’t deterred Ms. Boyle or the Green Party councillors from supporting the plan, although they don’t think it’s perfect. It did get better, they say, when staff added a new element recently, a $5-only fee for low-income households and special provisions for out-of-city home-care workers who have to park overnight in the city.

“This will be one of the harder climate votes. This is going to be a hard choice even for someone who thinks about climate and equity all the time,” Ms. Boyle said. “But I feel strongly that we can’t do nothing.”

The city’s head of transportation planning, Paul Storer, estimated that the new fees would bring in $44-million to $72-million in the next 10 years, money that would be used to pay for other parts of the climate plan.

The system would make Vancouver one of the few cities in North America to have a citywide permit system, although almost every major city has multiple districts that require permits. About half of Toronto sits in districts that require permits, while the Wisconsin city of Milwaukee has required US$55-a-year overnight parking permits for all residents for years.

Ms. Carr said she understands that it’s difficult for people to see a direct connection between parking permits and tackling climate change, but she believes going to a permit system is important.

“We need to shift consumer behaviour,” she said.

But councillors Ms. Dominato and Ms. Kirby-Yung say the parking-permit system that staff have come up with doesn’t do a very good job of that.

“This will only hit half the cars,” Ms. Kirby-Yung said. Many condo and detached-house car owners can park in garages on their property so they can store as many high-polluting vehicles as they want with no extra fee.

She and Ms. Dominato said it makes more sense to wait for the province to come up with a broad system of charging extra for higher-polluting vehicles.

Ms. Dominato said, among the hundreds of people who have contacted her personally, families in particular feel as though it’s an anti-family move, since parents getting children to multiple activities often requires a car.

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