Though a motion to declare a climate emergency does not currently exist at Council, several councillors have publicly revealed their opinions or given a response to an inquiry to The Guelph Post, giving an indication of where they would rest on a declaration in the future.
The idea of council considering a declaration spurred discussion around the issue for many in the city earlier this year, even causing secondary and elementary students to rally at City Hall earlier in May.
Couns. James Gordon and Leanne Piper were once considering a declaration motion to follow in the steps of Vancouver, Halifax, Edmunston and recently Kingston that had made declarations of their own.
The idea with the Gordon-Piper initiative was that an official declaration would be the next step in the city combatting climate change, and could have been coupled with a motion amending the city’s goal to achieve 100 per cent of its energy needs via renewable energy by 2050 to 2035.
In order to pass the 2035 initiative, they would have to undo the old target of 2050 set last May by council. In early May, Piper told GuelphToday that the new motion did not yet include a climate emergency declaration.
Up until then, councillors were engaged in what Guelph Politico’s Adam Donaldson identified as a “social media slap fight” between councillors that want an emergency declaration and those that want to continue to push for climate action with a declaration.
Mayor Cam Guthrie made his stance clear that he is against making an emergency declaration, saying instead in March that it is all “optics and politics”, calling it a move steeped in political motivations instead of practicality.
Against a declaration
Several councillors that could be in favour of declaring a climate emergency have told The Guelph Post or said publicly they would need to read and understand the language of a motion before jumping on board.
However, for those adamantly against such legislation, they have clearly defined where they sit on the issue. This includes Couns. Dan Gibson and Mark MacKinnon as the two most publicly vocal against it.
Gibson wrote in an opinion piece in the Guelph Mercury Tribune that “the focus still seems to remain on inserting partisan declarations into this file”, saying that a declaration “will only serve to erode our unified approach”.
The two-term Ward 1 councillor also said on Twitter recently that “the politics of declaring a climate emergency is quickly approaching it’s intended endpoint” in a retweet of federal parliament debate around declaring a national emergency.
Gibson said he supports the original 2050 plan because “it achieves unanimous council and community support. Our council needs to push back against being reduced to a platform for partisan federal politics in advance of the fall election.”
Ward 6’s councillor, MacKinnon, also wrote an opinion piece in the Mercury Tribune where he wrote he supported “rational, evidence-based decisions that are backed by science”.
“It is also abundantly clear to me that Guelph council should not jump on the feel-good bandwagon by declaring a ‘climate emergency’,” he added, touting several “environmentally-conscious policies”.
Guthrie, Gibson and MacKinnon may not be alone in being against a declaration that could interfere with the city’s work on the environment and politicize an issue that they consider to be non-political, but it is unclear as of now if there are others who believe the same on council.
For the sake of transparency, The Guelph Post has reached out to councillors that have not identified their views on social media, via a blog or in a media report.
“If the issue does come up, I look forward to listening to the pros and cons and making my decision at that time,” Downer told The Guelph Post, pointing out that there is currently no motion for a declaration on the agenda.
Ward 2’s Rodrigo Goller has not responded yet to The Post’s request for comment but did retweet MacKinnon’s article in the Guelph Mercury. He did not appear to make a statement of his own on Twitter.
Couns. Bob Bell, Mike Salisbury, Christine Billings and Dominique O’Rourke have yet to respond to inquires from The Post. However, virtually every member on council has supported most environment-related initiatives.
For a declaration
Couns. James Gordon and Leanne Piper were in favour of declaring a climate emergency, inspired by the recent declarations in other cities across Canada and their participaing in the National Climate Leadership Caucus. But it was only an idea that was floated, not confirmed.
There was some squabbling on Twitter between Gordon and Gibson over such a move. Gordon made the case that “one councillor cannot save the world, but hundreds nationwide collaborating on #climateemergency are already making a difference.”
As recently as Friday morning, Coun. Piper shared on her Facebook an article with the news that every Ontario ministry is now banned from talking about climate change, saying it is “the reason why municipalities should now talk about climate change more than ever before”.
Despite their initiative, Gordon and Piper’s concept of a declaration has yet to make it into a formal council process where it is approved. It may return in the future, but for now it is not under consideration.
Adam Donaldson wrote in his weekly GuelphToday column Market Squared that “if there’s a debate to be had, then let’s have it! Let’s put the motion on the floor and discuss its merits, and if there is no motion, let’s move on.”
It is unclear as of now if the idea of a declaration will return to council and if it would pass. The Guelph Post is attempting to examine the possibilities but the divisiveness of the issue could silence those that want to bring it forward, for now.