Pedal for the Planet gets political at press pulpit

Monday, August 31, 2009

  • Mayor Karen Farbridge found herself under fire at a climate change event over the city's development plan for the Hanlon Creek B

    Mayor Karen Farbridge found herself under fire at a climate change event over the city's development plan for the Hanlon Creek B

Written by Greg Beneteau

A group of cyclists crossing the country to raise awareness about climate change instead rode into controversy during their Guelph stop.

Three riders from the Ontario leg of the Pedal for the Planet tour arrived at city hall for a noon hour press conference with Mayor Karen Farbridge. The tour, which started in Victoria B.C, has been visiting towns across Canada on behalf of Kyoto Plus, a public engagement campaign with support from over 50 organizations including Oxfam, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club of Canada.

Windsor to Toronto Tour Leader Katelyn Blascik called for leadership at the federal level leading up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December, when nations will decide whether to extend the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"We did sign on. We made that commitment to the international community in 1997, and successive governments have failed to reduce greenhouse gases," Blascik said. "Now we're coming up to negotiations again and we remain one of the only industrialized nations yet to support an extension of the Kyoto Protocol."

Then, the Toronto resident took a shot at Guelph's political leadership, indicating that Kyoto Plus stood behind opponents of the Hanlon Creek Business Park Development.

“I'm especially happy to visit Guelph at this time with the controversial issue [of] development at the Hanlon Creek Business Park,” she said. “I just wanted to lend the support of Kyoto Plus to those opposing the Hanlon Creek Business Park because it's clear that the urbanization and over-development of Guelph's last old-growth forest and wetland is a climate change issue... and Guelph as a city can't be serious about meeting their Kyoto obligations if they're considering the destruction of the Hanlon Creek ecosystem.

She added that Kyoto Plus was "behind everyone keeping Hanlon Creek healthy and keeping Guelph on target."

The park was the site of a legal battle last month after a group of activists occupied the land to block construction of a road and culvert. 

Mayor Karen Farbridge later called the comments "innapropriate" and "disrepectful."

“If they’re looking for support for an initiative like that, ambushing someone at a press conference is not the best way to go about doing it,” Farbridge told thecannon.

She said that while she supported the cyclists' efforts to draw attention to climate change, the Hanlon Creek Business Park "did not relate to why we were there."

Blascik also raised eyebrows when she presented Farbridge with a "Pledge for Politicians" and asked the mayor to sign.

The petition committed elected officials to working toward Kyoto targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, establishing "a just price on greenhouse gas pollution" and other measures.

The city was not informed ahead of time about pledge, Farbridge said.

“It is customary and respectful and polite, if you want a mayor to sign a document at a public event, to talk to them about it beforehand,” Farbridge said.

She signed the petition anyway, claiming Guelph's existing 25-year Community Energy Plan exceeded the Kyoto targets.

The city filed a complaint with the national organizer of Pedal for the Planet over the incidents.

Emma Cane, an organizer of the Ontario leg of Pedal for the Planet and Coordinator for the Sierra Club Ontario Chapter, denied that riders surprised the city with its petition.

Organizers contacted Members of Parliament and mayors at the various stops, including Guelph, to inform them of the pledge beforehand, Cane said.

"You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who didn't know we wanted them to sign," she said.

As for the remarks, Cane said Kyoto Plus did not direct Blascik to talk about Hanlon Creek and emphasized that the riders were autonomous volunteers.

"It's important to remember that Katelyn is doing this out of dedication to the cause," Cane said. "She doesn't work for any of the organizations... She's a passionate person and if she mentioned it, it's because it's something that she felt needed to have attention brought to."

Guelph City Councillor June Hoffman, who was present at the event, seemed taken aback by the whole affair.

Asked about the press conference, Hoffman said "I think it's a wonderful initiative they've undertaken... and that's just about all I'm going to say about it."


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