Trevor Tessier, Director of Primary Health Care for Weyburn and area, has just completed the Action Canada Fellowship. A 10-month public policy leadership program for emerging leaders selected from across Canada The selected team examines a critical policy issue during their Fellowship year; the 2022/2023 theme was housing.
Tessier explained that Action Canada is a Canada-wide policy and leadership accelerator for individuals that have been in their career for awhile, which helps them develop perspective by visiting different places in Canada.
Tessier, a representative from rural Saskatchewan, shared that he was able to gain perspective during his term by travelling with his team to Ottawa, Yellowknife, the Madeleine Islands, Hamilton, as well as virtual tours in Vancouver.
"In that ten-month period, we chose a crisis that's occurring in Canada and deep dived into it and created policy recommendations. Our group, which was composed of six different individuals, focused on extreme heat and the effect on community housing."
"In Canada, we're really well-known for how cold it is," Tessier explained. "However, one of the things that gets missed is the heat that can be present in some of our cities and the increasing heat that we're experiencing in Canada and the risk of that extreme heat and increase in heat. For example, 619 people died in Vancouver in the span of one week."
He said his team took the time to look at options from a health, community and investment perspective on how policymakers and leaders at the municipal, provincial and federal levels can take the time to adjust policy and put in some real solutions to extreme heat to prevent deaths that occur during heat dumps.
Their group wrote a report, titled, "Heat-proofing community housing: Prioritizing extreme heat adaptation for vulnerable Canadians," and they hope their recommendations will be utilized as a complement to other literature that has emerged, such as The National Adaptation Strategy to heat.
There are four key recommendations provided by the report, based on the group's literature review and 44 interviews conducted with stakeholders and experts across Canada. The first recommendation is to create coordinated heat response plans to protect community housing tenants from extreme heat.
Tessier explained, "So what that is, is creating plans with the community emergency services and also assist in giving perspective to get the data and create response to extreme heat as it's a natural disaster."
The second recommendation is to adjust government policy, code, funding and programs to protect community housing tenants.
"Our recommendation within that is that currently we have minimum indoor air temperature standards, but we don't have maximum indoor air temperature standards and some houses can eventually essentially function as greenhouses."
The third recommendation is leverage holistic land use and urban design practices to reduce the impact of urban heat islands on community housing in the mid to long-term.
"What can happen in our larger urban centres is that heat islands can be created, where the temperature can be four degrees warmer than the ambient temperature. If there's large enough parks and recreation facilities, then that can prevent the temperatures that you would see and being mindful when we're designing our cities is important to prevent that."
The fourth and final recommendation is to generate more private investment to support the development of climate resilient community housing through replicating and scaling up proven approaches.
"So in terms of other countries around the world, they have a lot more investment in bonds associated with private investment in areas like extreme heat, or when they have an environmental impact, they put bonds forward."
In terms of short-term implementation, Tessier said it could involve creating an extreme heat response plan for a community housing unit or a community housing unit provider. In the long-term, public health could track heat-related illness. "Currently, heat-related illness isn't tracked, so public health and health authorities would not be able to respond appropriately in most areas."
The report is geared towards community housing units because, by definition, they have vulnerable people living in them. Tessier said it's also geared toward municipal, provincial and federal governments, realizing that providers of community housing units and how extreme heat can be responded to, does vary by province.
On March 10th of this year, Tessier and his task force presented their findings on extreme heat and community housing on Parliament Hill and to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). Each group member had a speaking role during their ten minute presentation.
There were questions afterwards, both virtually and in-person, with leaders in the extreme heat and housing sector, to help influence the policy that they work on.
Tessier made a special mention to the many people in Weyburn and Saskatchewan that helped him with the interviews, his application and gave him guidance along the way.
"Action Canada is currently accepting applicants and they'll be accepting applicants in the next year. If anyone's interested in this, please reach out to me and I'm willing to help if you're interested in learning more about policy and getting connected to the Action Canada network; a network of 250 people from across different sectors in Canada who've done a comparable to this."
To read the report, go HERE.