After hours of delegations, correspondence, debate and discussion, Council voted early on Tuesday morning to change the wording of of the motion to declare a climate emergency to “acknowledge a climate crisis” after an amendment was proposed by Coun. Dan Gibson, effectively killing the declaration.
Over 20 delegates, including three impromptu high school youth at the end, spoke to Council in favour of declaring a climate emergency, a motion that was brought forward by Couns. Leanne Piper and James Gordon.
The evening started off with Council voting against Coun. Gordon’s motion to reconsider the City of Guelph’s plan to reach 100 per cent renewable energy and net zero emissions by 2050 as part of an effort to move it up to 2035.
The reconsideration was voted for by Couns. Phil Allt, Bob Bell, Rodrigo Goller, James Gordon, Leanne Piper and Mike Salisbury, with the other seven voting against.
This was met with jeers from the public gallery and several individuals over the following hours expressed disappointment by shouting at the horseshoe before departing the chamber, resulting in the mayor calling for decorum multiple times.
The public seating was largely full for the majority of the evening until a short break before delegates started for the motion approving the 2050 target for the 100 per cent renewable energy and net zero carbon emissions for the city.
The delegates were also permitted to speak on the climate emergency declaration, and every delegate did, largely in complete support of the original motion, saying it went beyond symbolism and showed leadership on the part of Guelph.
There was at one moment a squabble between Mayor Cam Guthrie and delegate Susan Watson when the mayor said the “grandstanding here is unbelievable” when she brought up the fact youth were not delegating.
At the end of the scheduled delegates, however, Council unanimously voted to allow Thea Armstrong, Sequoia and Indigo Kim to speak as a combined 10-minute delegation.
The trio gave an emotional plea for councillors to pass the declaration, with Sequoia Kim saying that “if the climate emergency doesn’t pass, hope is lost”.
Delegates included Green MP candidate Steve Dyck and former Council candidate and engineer Matt Saunders, among several others that gave sometimes emotional speeches to the semi-circle of Council.
Saunders gave a speech where he compared Guthrie to ex-British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, who was known for his “appeasement”.
Before that, Saunders said that some 20 per cent of the community believed that climate change was “a hoax” and Guthrie and Gibson voting in favour of the motion might make the non-believers listen.
In the end, Coun. Dan Gibson proposed an amendment that he said would receive broader support from the public by changing the wording to “acknowledgement” and “crisis”, saying a large chunk of the populace would be against an emergency.
“To knowingly say emergency today, knowing that that will kick 20, 30, 40 per cent of the people in our city out of that conversation because they will not engage anymore,” Gibson said, adding that those that become unengaged will decide that “this is not for me, this is the radicals.”
When pushed by Coun. Gordon on the percentage claim, Gibson said that the Ward 2 councillor had a right to his own opinion but did not offer any proof of the division he said would come about because of a declaration.
Gibson said that the city needs broad public support and that some ’40 per cent’ of Guelph would feel alienated if Council moved ahead with the wording around “emergency” and “declaration”.
Mayor Cam Guthrie and Couns. Bob Bell, Christine Billings, Gibson, Rodrigo Goller, Mark MacKinnon and Dominque O’Rourke voted in favour of the amendment, changing Piper’s initial motion and “watering down the language”, according to those that supported the original.
At this point in the evening, the declaration around climate change was off the table. In the end, the amended motion was passed by Council 9-4 with only Couns. Piper, Gordon, Allt and Salisbury voting against it.
Coun. Piper, who proposed the original motion, said she did not vote in favour of the amended motion “because sometimes leadership is a line in the sand about intent and vision.”