Jonathan Knowles and Mark Paralovos had a conversation around climate policy posted to YouTube on May 25.

Paralovos is the candidate for the People’s Party of Canada in the fall federal election — his party at the time the video was posted had little information about what they would do about the environment, however, they have since published a six-point platform. Paralovos then wanted to examine the local angle of climate policy. Thus, invited to appear in a video posted to Paralovos’ YouTube channel was Jonathan Knowles, who is the transition co-chair of Our Energy Guelph, an organization that is currently in the process of becoming the city’s not-for-profit partner in implementing a plan for the city to reach net zero by 2050.

The PPC candidate said he initially reached out to Knowles to find out how much the city has spent on the Community Energy Initiative, the base which became OEG. Knowles said the cost was around $300,000, and a large chunk of the funds went to “meaningful engagement” with over 400 Guelph residents that produced 25 action steps for a low carbon city and to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The chat for Paralovos, as an election candidate, was definitively a political discussion for him. Knowles, however, did not give any indication that he supported the PPC, and Paralovos made clear he was there simply to be interviewed for more information on local climate policy.Knowles did not give any indication that he supported the PPC in the video, and Paralovos made clear he was there only to be interviewed on the subject at hand.

Then it came to the climate emergency part of the chat. This video was taken just a few days before a motion from Coun. Leanne Piper came before Council to make an emergency climate declaration. Those that were for it said it was more than just symbolism and represented a directional shift for the city and those against said wording did not matter as there are already significant actions being taken by the city to tackle climate change. The original motion ended up failing when an amendment changed the wording.

Candidate Paralovos said in the interview of Knowles that he was against the climate emergency declaration, saying “it seems like activism, it seems like getting the right words on paper and not having anything to back it up”, criticizing efforts by the federal ruling Liberals and a local Council alliance to declare a climate emergency. Knowles nodded his head in agreement.

Another part of the May 28 Council meeting was a motion from Coun. James Gordon to move up the net zero carbon and 100 per cent renewable energy plan to 2035. Paralovos said that because “there is a lot done with fossil fuels”, cutting out non-renewable energy by 2035 would not be feasible. Knowles nodded along to this as well.

It was Knowles’ public stance ahead of a Council vote while in the role of co-chair of a city-affiliated organization that received some criticism from those that supported the climate emergency declaration inside the small circle of city politics in Guelph.

Jonathan Knowles dismissed any idea that the stance was inappropriate. Knowles told The Post that Our Energy Guelph has long-advocated for emphasis on words over actions.

“We welcome the conversation about climate emergency and share the sense of urgency. This is why we decided on a Net Zero by 2050 target – because it is entirely consistent with that sense of urgency,” he wrote in a written reply to an inquiry from The Post on Wednesday. On whether the emergency declaration was needed, Knowles said that “the most substantive outcome from the declare [or] acknowledge debate was emphasis on ‘actions not words’.”

The 2018 city Council candidate said that Our Energy Guelph advocated for the actions over words approach before the debate started around a declaration. He added that “the declaration was clearly not needed in order to inspire bold actions over words.”

“And so we now move forward, inspired and encouraged that we will be moving into more substantive debates about how to achieve our target, rather than debating around the target,” he wrote, emphasizing “how”.

“Whether the declaration was needed or not is hopefully behind us and no longer a distraction. Our messaging is focused to appeal to the broadest audience in an open, transparent, and productive discussion and our priority is on tangible solutions.”

In the video, Knowles brought up “common currency”, a phrase often used by Coun. Dan Gibson, an environmental scientist, regarding climate policy. Common currency is the idea where there is something for everyone at the table. For climate policy, this means having the economic incentive, the social drive and other factors at the table.

It is this concept, he explained in the video, that is a big part of the OEG plan and it is how it can appeal to many people. The board chair’s concern, and the concern of those like Gibson who oppose a declaration, is that if an emergency is declared, it could alienate residents across the city and meddle with the “common currency” approach to the big tent climate solutions.