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Only in Guelph do we fight about who's green enough

On this week's Market Squared we consider if social media is the best place for a climate emergency debate. (Spoiler: it's not.)
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Sometimes, you just have to turn off the news, and watch Blade II on DVD because in this crazy world, it seems like the only thing that makes sense is a kickboxing vampire in sunglasses.

In Queen’s Park, you have a government seemingly obsessed with angering any and every interest group with changes to policy. In Ottawa, the Federal government is embroiled in a never-ending corruption scandal that’s purely obsessed with the politics and not the inherent corruption.

And the less said about what’s going on in the United States, the better.

So can’t Guelph’s municipal politics be an oasis from the claxon of who hates who, and who hates what? Apparently not!

The social media slap fight this week has seen some members of city council turn on each other about who cares about the environment more: the ones that want to declare a climate emergency, or the ones that want to continue to push for climate action and not declare an emergency.

Or to phrase this debate another way, do you hate climate change enough to make it an emergency or not?

I suppose we could be grateful that the council debate is not a clash between those that want to act on climate change, and those that don’t believe it’s happening.

When we see this debate happen at higher levels of government, we talk about our frustration that the debate is about the problem and not about the solution. Perhaps we can at least be glad our local politicians are debating action because if it wasn’t for the altruism, this would be embarrassing.

Actually, it’s still embarrassing.

In an op-ed piece, Ward 6 Councillor Mark MacKinnon said that council should, “not jump on the feel-good bandwagon by declaring a ‘climate emergency’” and that without one Guelph has still managed to be a “shining example of a Canadian city that enacts forward-thinking, responsible and environmentally- conscious policies.”

Ward 1 Councillor Dan Gibon responded by writing that “Recognizing limitations in authority is critical” for a responsible government. “I’m reminded of an age old municipal criticism. ‘That we are elected to fix potholes. Once elected though, some believe it’s their mandate to save the world!’” Gibson tweeted.

This is where Ward 2 Councillor James Gordon, one of two councillors that proposed a Guelph declaration of a climate emergency came in.

“Helpful,” he retweeted sardonically. “I’ll put you (Dan) and Mark down as Pothole Dudes. I believe that some of us are elected with the expectation that we can be visionaries. One councillor cannot save the world, but hundreds nationwide collaborating on #climateemergency are already making a difference.”

Gibson was equally derisive in his response saying, “Some advice for aspiring politicians. It’s a liberating moment when you realize that some, at the end of the day, simply want to call you names. So when it happens (which it will), smile with confidence, because that’s when your opponent is running out of arguments.”

After that statement there was a winky face emoji, which is just further proof that Twitter is not the place for high level political dialogue.

And on top it all, there is no motion on declaring a climate emergency. This is just an idea that’s being floated by Gordon and Ward 5 Councillor Leanne Piper.

Piper on Twitter said that she and Gordon were inspired by their participation in the National Climate Leadership Caucus. A good convention should leave you inspired and excited to take action. That’s what you’re there for.

Piper’s wardmate Cathy Downer made a call for cooler heads. “We can have a good community debate about this without polarizing each other. Nobody wants to be painted into a corner,” she tweeted.

I feel compelled to make the point too that we can fix potholes and work towards an environmentally sustainable city. In fact, a CBC report in February said that fixing potholes actually has a positive environmental impact.

“By fixing potholes or even doing early road repair to [prevent] potholes, this would [change] the load resistance on your car tires, so basically you have less fuel consumption,” said Hao Wang, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rutgers University.

So how do we feel about pothole repairs now?

And I would add that there are worst reasons to get into government than wanting to save the world.

Like hating government.

Like wanting to repeal the social safety net to give the top one per cent a big tax cut.

Like owning the “Lib-tards”.

The back biting and back fighting of people who each in their own way are moving in the same general policy direction does about as much to advance the cause as declaring an emergency in the estimation of some people. It also feeds the cynicism and disgust that keeps some people out of becoming politically active in the first place.

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.