Dozens of Guelph activists concerned about the effects of Global Climate Changed marched though town Monday afternoon to demand that the City declare a climate emergency, and that all levels of government take immediate and substantive action to address the threat to the natural environment.
After a march from Sunny Acres Park, past Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute, and through the neighbourhoods behind the Basilica of Our Lady to City Hall, the demonstrators offered a list of four demands before performing a “die in”.
What were the demands? The group passed a motion asking governments to tell the truth about how deadly the situation is, commit to a World War II scale mobilization to get emissions to net zero by 2025, to call for a people’s assembly to oversee government efforts and promote accountability, and to ensure that the transition be just to Indigenous communities and economic and political minorities.
“This planet is in crisis. We’re in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, this one caused by us,” said Jax Thornton, a young environmental activist who recently ran for the Green Party federal nomination in Guelph.
“Conventional campaigning like lobbying, marching, petitions, rallies, and other forms of activism have not achieved the massive transformation of our society and economy that the situation requires,” they said. “The inaction of our government is criminal and negligent, and rebellion is justified when a government has failed to protect its people.”
Organized by the Guelph chapter of the Extinction Rebellion, the protest was one of several that took place across Canada on Monday. The timing was specific to Ontario because Monday marked the first of four days worth of hearings into the the Government of Ontario’s constitutional challenge to the federal Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, AKA: the carbon tax.
The Guelph protest also mentioned specifically the need to declare a climate emergency. A fierce debate has been raging online and in the editorial pages of the local newspaper about whether Guelph should follow other Canadian municipalities in declaring a climate emergency.
“We’re certainly interested in what city council is doing, and we’re quite disappointed to see that there’s not as much of a push to get a climate emergency declared,” said Dustin Brown, a spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion Guelph.
“We’re also not putting a lot of stock in that because what does it mean to declare a climate emergency at the municipal level?” Brown added. “Does that mean we’ll have a carbon budget for every project that’s approved moving forward? Probably not, and that’s a short term action that if we’re serious about this being an emergency, then it needs to be taken.”
In Toronto, a five-judge panel heard from Josh Hunter, the Deputy Director of the Ministry of the Attorney General who said that if the court holds up the GGPPA it will be mass hysteria. “They could regulate where you live. How often you drive your car,” Hunter said in his submission. “It would unbalance the federation.”
Hunter also suggested that Ontario is doing just fine on its own reducing emissions. “Ontario is further ahead than all the other provinces,” Hunter said. His proof was the elimination of coal fired plants. Of course, the last coal-fired plant in Ontario closed in 2014, which was four years before the current Progressive Conservative government was elected.
Attorney General Caroline Mulroney said in a media release that the intent of the suit is to stop the unintended consequences of paying a price on carbon.
“The federal government’s carbon tax is forcing Ontarians to pay more to heat their homes, drive to work and buy groceries. It’s simply not fair to hardworking individuals, families and small businesses,” said Mulroney. “That’s why today, lawyers from my ministry are in court to argue that the federal government has enacted an unconstitutional, disguised tax. We are keeping our promise to fight for Ontarians.”
Outside Osgoode Hall in downtown Toronto where the hearing was taking place, hundreds gathered to protest the Ontario government’s court action in a demonstration organized by Environmental Defence, who is also an intervener in the court case.
“We want to make sure the Ontario hears from the people this government claims to represent: commuters, students, and young families struggling to make ends meet in a world full of pressures and anxieties,” said Environmental Defence in a blog post. “We want to make it clear that any government that refuses to consider the world our children will inherit doesn’t speak for us. We demand a new approach: one that values the health and well-being of Ontarians first.”
Meanwhile, back in Guelph, Brown said that the City of Guelph’s own goal to go net zero by 2050 is “old news”, because people need to be realistic about the extent of the climate crisis.
“We know we have a lot of difficulties, and the government’s balancing a lot of things, but I would like to see the messaging be very clear about what’s going on,” Brown explained. “There should be a mass education of the public to tell them what’s going on, and what we’re in the midst of, and hopefully that will inspire more public action.”
According to another Extinction Rebellion rep, the goal of the march was not to hear from politicians, but to get them to listen. Brown said that success in dealing with climate change will only come from collective action.
“I’m not going to throw in my two cents because that’s something that should happen in the context of a citizens’ assembly in which we have a full participatory democracy to make sure no one gets left behind,” Brown added.