Guy Hanchet interview transcript

This transcript records an interview from July 21, 2021 between Carson Hvengarad, Masters Degree Student at Trent University, and Guy Hanchet, President of For Our Grandchildren. It has been lightly edited to make it more readable.

Carson: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this with me.

Guy: Well, I’m anxious to see what the results of this will be. I’d love to understand the nature of the study that you’re doing. That little summary doesn’t give me much of a clue as to what’s going to happen. You’re not going to have statistical relevance; it’s going to be word of mouth?

Carson: Yeah. I am going to do a survey of Peterborough and area residents as well, to see what they think about some of these things, so probably a little bit of statistics there. But it will mostly just be the interviews here. Later in the fall I’m hoping to collect all these things together, and if you’re available to have another meeting I could share some of what I’ve learned and compiled with you.

Guy: Sure, probably I’ll be available. Are you actually staying in Peterborough while you’re doing this?

Carson: Yes, I moved here last fall. My background is from Alberta and I’ve just got out of undergrad. I have been involved with lots of local environmental groups, our version of the Conservation Authority watershed protection group, working for a municipal government, doing environmental education for the provincial park system as an interpreter. So lots of local environmental things and also part of an advisory group to city council for green initiatives. That’s where my interest for this came. Coming into this, there wasn’t much research about the partnerships between municipal governments and environmental organization so I’m doing that.

Guy: Maybe you can make our local Peterborough Environmental Advisory Council be better. Maybe you can give them the strength to do something in Peterborough because so far they don’t appear to have any influence over policy decisions or anything.

Carson: I felt the same way as part of part of my group. So, I’m going to ask a bit about you and the For Our Grandchildren group, what your goals are, what you do, and then specifically about how you interact with other NGOs in the area and with the municipal government as well. Ready to get started?

Guy: I’m ready.

Carson: Alright, so, first of all I’ll just ask you to say your name and personal pronouns. 

Guy: Guy Hanchet, my personal pronouns are he and him.

Carson: Thank you. What is your position with For Our Grandchildren?

Guy: I’m the President.

Carson: And you’re one of the founding members as well?

Guy: Not quite. I’m one of the founders in Peterborough. The longer story is I joined when I was in Toronto, and at the time we had this idea that we would open chapters around Canada. I moved to Peterborough while we were planning that and we thought, “well, let’s start one in Peterborough.” So I was the founder of the Peterborough chapter. Since then, the vestiges of the national organization have withered away.

Carson: Oh, that’s too bad.

Guy: It is, but you know, it was a great idea to take it national, but there was more energy and resources required than we were able to put into it. We did start a chapter in Ottawa and it started, there were a few meetings, and then it just kind of fell apart. It was hard and what we concluded after that was that this was an anomaly, and it happened because I was here. Not me personally, but because there was somebody here who was willing and energetic enough to take it forward and there wasn’t somebody like that in Ottawa. I didn’t stay with it in Ottawa long enough to water it and nurture it to the point to where it would have an independent life.

Then we kind of reassessed and said, “look, there’s organizations like this in pretty much every municipality now.” When we started For Our Grandchildren in 2006 that was not the case. So we’ve become a local organization, we’ve decided to completely focus on Peterborough City and Peterborough County and the townships in Peterborough County

Carson: That’s great the local chapter’s thriving so much still. How did you come to this? Were you involved with other environmental groups before this one?

Guy: No, not really. A long story is that I started to read Bill McKibben’s book “The End of Nature” in 1989 when it first was published and it languished on my bedside table for about 20 years. I didn’t have the heart to read it anymore, it felt so negative. “The End of Nature,” that title says an awful lot. It doesn’t really mean that nature stops existing, it just meant that humans are so strong a force that nature is no longer in control. And humans aren’t in control either, turns out, but we’re making a big mess of it.

Mariam on Grandpa

I picked up the book and reread it and decided to get a little more involved, and so I got involved with For Our Grandchildren in Toronto. And then my granddaughter was born and I became passionate about it. I realized, she was there lying on my tummy, one day old, totally fragile, totally vulnerable, totally dependent on her father and her grandfather and all the rest of society, and we were making such a mess of the world. It was kind of like I committed then to doing as much as I could within the limits of my ability and energy and psychic energy to try and make the world a better place, particularly with respect to climate change.

Carson: Thank you, so you joined For Our Grandchildren. Could you tell me about what this group does?

I’ll tell you all, it’ll be probably a long rambling story again. When I was in still in Toronto with the Toronto Welsh Male Voice Choir we went on a tour of Wales and I had arranged to meet with the Welsh Climate Change Commissioner. We sat down for a beer somewhere and I told him what we were doing, and he said, “so basically you inform, motivate, and mobilize grandparents to take action against climate change.” And I said, “wow, that’s wonderful!” I probably was so naive I didn’t realize that’s probably just a standard description of what people do. But we have kind of changed our goals a little bit now and we’re looking at it as more to say a lot of people really do care about climate change and they know that it’s not good, and they want to do something, but they don’t know what to do.

So we’re trying to provide the opportunity to let people know, first of all, that there are other people who care so they’re not alone. And there are other people who are doing things and they can join with us to do those things, so we give a little advice about what are the things you can do. The advice ranges everywhere from talk to your friends, to get involved with the politicians, to run for politics, to talk to politicians, to write letters to the editor. We try to encourage people that that’s not so hard and that there are other people doing it too.

We do think that working on the local level is good, because that’s a way in which you can establish personal relationships with other people who are doing the same thing. So that’s what we’re doing. As part of that, in addition to encouraging others to do that, we do it ourselves. Like I just said run for politics and I just actually had an interview. Somebody from the Examiner called me up and said, “I understand you’re running for the Green Party,” and I said, “yeah I am!”

Carson: Congratulations!

Guy: There are two nominees so we’re going to have a nominating meeting in August sometime and one of us will be chosen for an election which has everybody sitting on the edge of their seats wondering when it’s going to be called. But this is way more involved than I ever thought that I would be 10, 11 years ago when my granddaughter was born.

Carson: Good for you, that’s great.

Guy: So we write letters to the editor, we petition before City Council, we’ve got a program going on to have a help wanted ad in our newsletter. We want people to help us in the townships. I don’t know if you know the political structure around here, but there’s Peterborough City and then it’s surrounded by Peterborough County, which is a totally separate organization. Within the county there’s eight townships and two First Nations. So we’re looking for people to be working at the township level, as well as that the City Council level. It’s the same thing, just instead of just one big City there’s eight little towns around and of course, their sphere of influence is so much smaller and their ability to get things done…

Carson: I have talked with people from the County and several townships, so it’s good to hear you’re involved with them too. So climate change is the big goal, anything in particular, like reducing greenhouse gases?

Guy: That’s it, reduce greenhouse gases. And there’s so many different ways of approaching it, but it all requires political intervention because individuals buying electric vehicles or riding their bicycle, that’s necessary but insufficient to accomplish any meaningful goals. We recognize that it’s necessary to convince politicians to take action and part of what we’re trying to do is to engage enough citizens that the politicians will feel like they have a mandate, the pressure to take appropriate action. So we’re trying to get people engaged and that’s the fundamental reason, so that they will threaten to vote against anybody who doesn’t take climate seriously.

We’ve met quite a few times with our local MP Maryam Monsef and we always end by asking, “what can we do?” She always answers by saying, “get me political space.” Our first reaction when she said that was “how much political space do you need? You’ve got a majority government, you got four years.” That was what we said at first, and now it’s “well, how much? What do you need for political space?” I don’t know what it is, but she needs to feel that people really are willing to vote the way they say, the way their interests drive them, and that means vote for climate and the appropriate climate action. So we’re trying to create that political space, not necessarily for her or for her party, just so that the all the political parties realize that there’s a political will to make the difference that we know needs to be made.

Carson: That’s really great that this is a local organization but thinking of the national politics. Provincial probably as well?

Guy: Well, we’ve kind of given up on our local MPP. We have met with him a few times, but he’s nice and polite but he doesn’t really listen. At least Maryam Monsef listens and I kind of believe that she takes our advice seriously and takes it to the Cabinet table. But I think as a junior Member of Parliament, she doesn’t have the strength or the force to make things happen.

Carson: So, in the time that you’ve had this group, how do you feel about what you’ve accomplished, your success?

Guy: I go through cycles of feeling like it’s just hopeless, and we feel like we’re making no difference at all, and then I talk to other people, and we say, “yes, we are making a difference!” You can’t take credit for it, but you can feel that there’s a difference in the world now, compared to when we started. And I can’t say that it’s due to us, but I think maybe a little bit of it is.

The differences that I can feel include the fact that when I first moved here, and it was nearly 10 years ago, for a couple of years, the concept of climate change never appeared in the local newspaper. Then one day, we held an event and there it was, “climate change” in gigantic bold letters of a headline on the front page. It was like “oh, this is a difference!” The newspaper is at least willing to publish information about climate change. It was probably something we had, a rally or a meeting. I don’t know what we did, but anyway there it was in big bold letters on the front page of the newspaper and it had never been there before. At that time I was wondering if there was a way to measure that kind of difference, and there is. I’ve since found some websites who are measuring the prominence of the concept of climate change in the press, and it is becoming more and more prominent. The other thing that’s measurable, not by me, is polling results where there’s an increasing number of citizens who are concerned enough that they want to do something. And so there’s change, whether we can take any credit for it, I don’t know.

Carson: I think you should take a bit, it sounds like you’re doing good things.

Guy: That’s what most people say, it just feels so remote. It’s so different from a local campaign, where at the end of this local campaign we’re going to have an additional 50 kilometers of bicycle trails or something like that. Then you can say, “yeah, we really did make that happen.” But this is so remote, can we really say there’s a couple of less molecules of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere? Can we take credit for that? I don’t know, it feels so obscure.

But you have to kind of believe that you’re making a difference. You probably know about the social studies that say that you don’t have to get to 100% of people believing in something in order to effect change, you need a very small percentage of really dedicated people. I’ve heard the number 3.5%, I don’t know whether I believe it or not, but it’s a very small number of people who can start to make a real difference, they can start to really make a voice heard above the din.

And I have to say our organization was instrumental in getting Peterborough to pass their Climate Emergency Act two years ago. We were part of that deal. Now, there were quite a few other people involved. Some of our members were working behind the scenes with counselors, talking to them individually, which is, I believe, the way politics really gets done. Others of the people who were making an influence were standing up at Council meetings and talking and saying, “this has to be done,” and explaining why. I have to say that the most influential voice was the 17-year-olds who stood up and said, “this is our future, stop fucking around, get on with it!” You could feel the difference in the attention that was paid to them, compared to another old guy standing up and talking about the sky is falling. The kids were really taken seriously. We do work with them, we don’t try to do it all on our own. We do collaborate with the youth organizers in Peterborough and it’s a wonderful collaboration, they give us lots of energy and hope and all kinds of good things.

Carson: That’s really nice. Do you have an idea of what your organization is able to do well? What are your strengths?

Guy: Our strengths, what are the assets that we have? A website and a newsletter mailing list and some social media platforms. We’re working hard to fill those up with stories that gives people the opportunity to join. Another thing that we do really well is to organize in-person events. If you’re still here, you may be able to come to one on the 20th of September. We’re calling it a celebration of the passage of the climate change emergency in Peterborough. Along with a celebration, which is going to be two hours of music and dance and a few speeches, we’re going to have a march to City Hall, to say “okay, now you’ve declared the emergency, get on with it and do something!”

Carson: I’ll be there!

Guy: I hope so, I hope it happens because we’re going ahead with the scheduling of it as though people will be willing to come out and meet in public. And will it still be allowed? Another thing that could happen is it could be election day or it could be the middle of a campaign.

We started off calling it Dance for the Climate, and I don’t think it’s really still called that. We held an event called Dance for the Climate in 2015 and we had all four party leaders in the square dancing together. I felt very rewarded by the fact that they were all there dancing. No, not four, three out of four, you can guess which one wasn’t there. But the NDP and the Greens and the Liberals were there. I’m not even sure, maybe even the guy from the PCs was there, I can’t remember for sure. But anyway, it was really delightful. It happened to be a perfect day, we had bands playing and we had people dancing and it was wonderful to see the politicians out dancing with each other, it was kind of cool. I wasn’t quite brave enough to get a picture with the three of them, me dressed in my Captain Climate Change outfit with the politicians there on my arms. I wish I had done that. If we gathered all the pictures that we took that day you could put one together, a montage, have them with me, but it would have been good to have them there and have my arms on their shoulders and stuff. It was a great day, so we’re doing a similar thing in 2021 now. But it’ll be very different, it’s addressing the municipal climate emergency, which was declared, but no significant actions have been taken.

Carson: Yeah. So, strengths are reach to the email, social media, and everything, and also organizing events.

Guy: And I would say contacts within the activist community as well, all those contacts are really powerful. And it’s not just me, our whole organization has contacts in different aspects of the activist organizations. One of the things that we did three or four years ago, was to organize a local chapter of The Leap, I don’t know if you remember the Leap Manifesto that came out in 2016, might have been 2015 even. Its mandate was to gather together all, it’s kind of like the Green New Deal. If you think about the Green New Deal it was a first manifestation of that, which is you need to address all of the social inequities at the same time as climate, because they all go together. So, we were instrumental in doing that and that helped us to build relationships, as well as to use the relationships that we already had with people. But what’s always missing from what we do is youth. What’s always inadequately represented is young people.

Carson: Are you working on trying to improve that? Maybe that’s one of the barriers? My next question is about barriers or problems to doing what you want to do. Maybe that’s one of them.

Guy: It is, it wouldn’t have probably been the first one that I came up with, but one of the barriers is with regard to age. We’ve got a lot of internal questioning about the name of our organization, because people who are not grandparents are quite welcome to join and people who are grandchildren of still living grandparents are welcome to join. But some people think that our name is inappropriate. I don’t know, that may be a liability, but I think it’s also an asset, because our name is well known, not just in Peterborough, but across Canada. So it’s both, but we still have that controversy. I’m not sure I’m right, because I’m one of the ones who wants to hang on to it, but that’s partly because I was there when we started.

But I think our age is problematic. We have tried to get involved with people of different age groups, other than retired white people and it’s really tough, it’s really tough. But we do succeed, we reach out. We don’t just say, “well, you’re welcome to join us if you’re not a white-haired white person.”

The thing that we’re doing on the 20th of September does include Indigenous representatives on the planning committee and we had Indigenous representatives when we did that Leap Manifesto. Then we did the, I think it was even the Green New Deal, and we had people from the Indigenous community show up for that, and younger people showed up for that. But Peterborough has not got an awful lot of black people in it, there are some, but it’s not a big community. I find that gap even harder to bridge, I don’t really know why, but it’s something that I think is problematic for us. We also tend to be middle class, perhaps relatively well-to-do people, and people who are less well-to-do, we don’t really reach them with our concerns. We do attempt to cross that boundary, but it still feels like a boundary, it doesn’t feel like a natural junction.

Carson: How about barriers in getting the message across to the politicians?

Guy: Some politicians, I’m just thinking of the ones around here, some of them just don’t want to believe that there’s even truth to the facts of climate change. If you boil it down to something really simple, you know, “we’re burning too much carbon and the stuff that goes into the atmosphere makes the world hotter.” Some people, some of the politicians don’t even want to believe that. And then the next barrier, of course, is that they don’t think Canada is big enough to be bothered trying to solve it, and we can’t afford it. I don’t know what to say, there’s so many barriers, there’s so many barriers, Carson.

Some of them are they just don’t want to hear.

Some of the problems I can understand, they’re more immediate, like a housing crisis or a Covid crisis is so immediate and so obvious and their citizens get lined up behind that so readily and this far away remote negative problem is something that not enough people get lined up behind. So I think it comes right down to it, the barrier is the same thing that we’re trying to work on, which is that there’s not enough people with us. That’s really what’s the barrier is. And so, we’re just trying to get more people to be with us. And they don’t have to join our group, we’ve got this list of “here are the groups in Peterborough you can join! Go, any of them are great!”

Carson: For sure, yeah. If we knew how to solve that barrier, well, we wouldn’t be talking about this.

Guy: Maybe what your research study can help with.

Carson: I’m doing my best!

Carson: So moving on, the next section is about cooperation between groups, specifically between you and your local governments. What does it look like when you’re trying to talk to governments? How is your relationship with them?

Guy: A few years ago with the previous City Council… I’m going to start with the City of Peterborough. At the time, we felt it was important for the councillors to understand that there was such a thing as climate change and that there were things that city councillors could do. So, we had a series of lunchtime or coffee meetings with every single counselor to say, “here we are, we’re For Our Grandchildren, we’d like to explain to you about climate change and what causes it and what’s needed to be done about it, and how you can help.” I think that was a really good approach.

Then in the last municipal election we started a campaign or organization called Vote for a Sustainable Peterborough. In order for that to work we interviewed all of the previous counselors and all of the candidates who are running for Council this election and tried to assess their performance on some scale that we thought would measure sustainability. I don’t know how you measure it, but you can tell the difference between somebody who’s completely on this side compared to completely on that side. As for the gradations, with people in between, how much do you believe what a politician tells you anyway? We did do that and we thought we had achieved success. We had 4000 hits on the data on the website which we created, which we thought was pretty darn good in a city of 60,000. Many people told us that they thought it was useful information. We thought we had succeeded, we thought we had elected a progressive Council, but they’ve disappointed us at every turn.

At the County level, we didn’t ever try to intercede in the election process, it was too complicated, I don’t even think we understood it. But we do talk to the County and we try to convince the County, who has signed on to the Climate Change Action Plan for Peterborough. It was in 2016 every township and the County and the City signed off on the intention to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under their control. And not just their scope under control, scope to control as well, so just within their within their boundaries. Every single one of them signed up for it so we’ve been pushing them to say, “okay, now you signed up for it, and it’s three and a half years ago now since they signed.” I think it was December 2016 that they were all signed, so it’s coming up to five years. And so we just push them and say you don’t need to invent this stuff, there’s a very detailed plan of the things that you could do, and you need to do these things, and you committed at that time. Different counties and different townships had different goals. From somewhere like a 38% to 23% reduction compared to whatever the baseline was. They all had different mixes of what the plans were because they’re all different in terms of the amount of urban versus rural constituency. So we just push them towards that.

What we’re doing now with our approach to townships is more specific, we’re talking about housing stock because that’s one of the things that municipalities have most control over. They have practically no control over transportation, at least as far as greenhouse gases are concerned. Maybe they could put in a few charging stations or buy themselves an electric vehicle. Although Peterborough could buy themselves electric buses. We’ve been pushing them to do that and they just keep saying it costs too much, no matter how much we tell them the purchase price is more, but the total cost of ownership is less and you achieve your intangible, nonmonetary goal of greenhouse gas emissions reductions. So…I don’t remember the question, what was the question?

Carson: Just telling me about your dealings with these governments.

Guy: Yeah, so that’s how we deal with them. At one point, we had a postcard writing campaign where we had a bunch of people together. It was just before our delegations went off to Paris, I went down to Ottawa and I was talking on stage just before David Suzuki with 25,000 people there, and it was like what I was talking about back here. In Peterborough, we ran a postcard signing campaign and we delivered a package of a stack of postcards to politicians at different levels saying, “do this, do this, do this, do this, do this.” It was kind of exciting to do something like that, although I was in Ottawa, so I don’t really know how exciting it was.

But letter writing campaigns. We encourage people for what it’s worth to sign petitions, but I’m not convinced that petitions are a particularly effective way to influence. A politician is much more likely to be influenced by someone sitting on their doorstep or sending them a handwritten letter or a typed letter. I don’t think that one more line and one more signature on a petition is very powerful but it’s all that some people have the time and energy and courage to do, so do that!

Carson: That’s a lot of a lot of things you’ve got going on! Is it a two-way relationship, or how would you describe it?

Guy: We’ve been around long enough that they sometimes even ask us to come talk to them.

Carson: That’s great!

Guy: They’ll contact us, but it’s mostly us asking. I ran into Maryam Monsef at an event, it was about six or eight months ago, and she said “Guy, my favorite climate activist!” Yes, and then she invited me to come with our organization to talk to her about some things, and so of course we took her up on it. But that’s one of the reasons why I keep saying our name is pretty important, because our name is partly why we get doors opened for us. It’s not just my name, it’s our organization’s name. It’s mostly, I’d say, a one-way street, though, it’s mostly us asking what we’d like. We would like to think of it as giving them ideas about what they could do, but I don’t think they perceive it that way.

Carson: Yeah, that’s tough for any group to do that, for sure. So we’ve already talked a little bit about some of the successes you’ve had. On the larger scale, is there anything locally, with this municipal or County government that you can say that you’ve accomplished?

Guy: Right now, we have not been. First of all, Covid has prevented us from really implementing any of that stuff. So any of the successes we have had would have been at the municipal level, in the City of Peterborough and not in the County or the townships. We have been kind of waiting and preparing but we’ve been reluctant to only meet over Zoom because you can’t really establish even eye-to-eye contact with people over Zoom. if you’re in the room, even under the serious constraints of being behind a podium and then being behind a desk, at least you have the opportunity to get some little bit of chemical connection with the people who are there. So we’ve avoided beginning relationships over Zoom. So we’ve been able to, at the municipal level, continue relationships that we already had by using Zoom and phone calls and things like that, but that’s only because we established relationships before ahead of time.

Carson: Yeah, that has been tough for sure.

Guy: And actually, last year or two years ago, we thought, “well, we haven’t really done much of anything.” And then we went through our records and found a list of the stuff that we had done, probably in 2019, and it was like “oh my, that is quite a bit!” It’s actually kind of cool to go back and look at the retrospective of what you did over the course of a year, and you think that at any one time you’re not doing much of anything, but when you look at the whole list, it can be pretty long. Part of the reason we can do that is that we record many of the things we do on a website. Then we can go back and review the website blog entries and say, “oh yeah, we did this, and this, and this, and this, and this.” And at the end of that year we put up a blog entry with a list of all the things we did last year, and it was quite a long list. Mostly it was events, but we also published a series of a set of 12 letters to the editor during that time, and we appeared on TV at least a few times and stuff like that. So it turned out to be fairly impressive. But does it make a difference? I don’t know.

Carson: That’s a nice confidence boost though! That is what you were saying before about the cycles of hope and hopelessness. It’s hard to keep it up, sometimes.

Guy: Right now we’re focused on hope. We’re doing as much as we can, because we’ve sort of stopped. We’ve decided that a mix of news that contains three hopeful good news stories to one “polar bear on an ice flow” is enough to give people the combination of outrage that the world is going to be screwed but not get people so down that they think there’s nothing we can do about it. So we talk about the successes. And we try to get as many successes as local as we can, to say, “here’s what somebody did in this city, or in this place in Canada, or in Sweden.” It’s usually farther away than one of those cities in Canada, but it could be, cities in Canada are doing lots of good things.

Carson: I’ve signed up for your newsletter so I’ve been getting those!

Guy: Oh really! One of the things we’ve done is reorganized our organization, so that it’s not just me principally doing almost everything. It’s become a whole bunch of people doing things now. We consciously decided that we needed to have more people involved because sometimes we would have a meeting and there’d be 12 people there and everybody had to say something about everything, so it took forever. So we’ve split into four separate committees as well as a board that meets, and so the board meets and they talk about what the communications team has done this month, what’s the membership team done this month, the events committee, what have they done this month, the political action committee. So there’s just a summary of what those committees did so you don’t have to talk about everything all the time. We did that for two reasons, one to waste less time at meetings, but two, give the opportunity for more people to get involved with something specific and not have to stare at meetings that take too long.

Carson: It sounds like a good organization.

Guy: Good people, I have to say Carson, good people. And we’re all lined up behind the same objective, the same overall big objective, which is getting enough people to pressure the government to take action on climate change at all levels of government.

Carson: For the local government and giving that pressure, what are some of the problems with building or having that better relationship? How could that be improved, maybe to make the ideas flow better between the two groups?

Guy: I don’t know, we’ve been sort of stuck in Covid for a year and a half now and we’re kind of stale on what the ideas are that we’re going to do next. We do continue to maintain, as many as possible, our personal relationships with the councillors who will listen to us and kind of nurture those a little bit at the one-on-one level and that’s really valuable.

I was in a meeting just before this where we were talking about what are we going to present to City Council next week. There’s a bicycle plan on the chopping block, which they had three levels that they could have approved and they decided to not approve the lousiest one and they decided not to approve the best one. They decided to approve the middle one, so we’re going to still try to influence them to support to approve the best one. It’s called spark, if you want to go look for it. So you might see some people from For Our Grandchildren show up for that, but we’re probably not going to be big on that one.

We are planning, though, to redo our Vote for Sustainable Peterborough exercise in the next municipal election, where we will give report cards assessing the results of all the counselors who are running again and assessing, the best we can, new candidates, based on whatever we can find. It’s a lot of work, though, to do something like that. Because in our municipality, there are 9 or 11 counselors or something like this, and each one of the positions is contested by half a dozen people. So we had 30 or 40 people that we had to assess, so we had quite a big team of volunteers going out and doing those assessments and we consolidated and put it up as this Vote for Sustainable Peterborough.

We’re going to do that again for the federal election, we’re going to assess the four main candidates. I guess if it’s me I better recuse myself. But we’re planning to do that again to have a report card, it’ll be a combination of the candidate and the party platform. We’ll present that and we’ll do it in a local way. You see these things at the national level, you see a lot of those during election campaigns, but we’ll do one that’s focused on the individual candidates and their credibility. I think it’ll be hard to stay objective on that one, but we’ll try. And then if we still have the energy for it, we might do it in the next provincial election as well, which will be next year, 2022 I think, so coming along pretty quickly.

Carson: That sounds like your election things seem pretty valuable to a lot of people.

Guy: Well, that’s the extent to which some people’s political involvement goes, is to say, “I’ll do a little research about the candidates and I’ll vote for the one that I think is most closely aligned to my values, my desires.” And that’s great, I mean, that’s what democracy is, that’s the fundamental tool of democracy is a vote. There’s a lot of other tools that are not so explicit and include lobbying and talking, writing, influencing, other ways. The vote is the fundamental currency of elections, of democracy.

Carson: For sure, and even at the local level that’s important. So with the local government, this is my last question, which is kind of theoretical, if the relationship with them, if your influence was what you wanted it to be, what would that look like?

Guy: I would probably say we could come up with a handful of very concrete actions that local municipalities can take. Well, first of all, municipalities are hampered in what they can do by provincial legislation. There’s a lot of things they just can’t do including run a deficit. But we would ask them to participate with other municipalities to find out what they’re doing to combat climate change and to learn from them. We’ve been pressuring them to do that, and there’s one organization across Canada which we would ask them to send a representative to from every one of the townships or at least a couple of the townships and the municipality, to join with the Climate Caucus. It’s actually very strong in British Columbia, I think that’s where it started in the interior of BC, but I think it even has an Ontario wing now, and I think there’s probably 250 municipalities across the country who have memberships and are active in that. So that would be one thing.

We can’t tell them what to do, you know, but we would tell them what to do. One thing to do is to buy an electric bus, don’t ever buy another gas-powered bus! Just buy electric buses! Get on board now, you might make a mistake, you might buy the wrong kind, it might be a little bad, but the diesel bus that you buy today is still going to be running 15 years from today when we’re supposed to be way past our objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50%.

And we would ask them to lobby as much as possible for more power in terms of independence to set building code regulations that would allow us to change the building stock in this area to be more energy efficient, or at least use energy of a form that’s less greenhouse gas intensive. That’s something that they can do, but they can’t do it directly because I’m told that even building codes, municipalities can’t do that. They have to go to the province and the province says, “here’s the building codes.” So pressure the government, they need to pressure the next level of government up to say, “our town wants us to fix this and we can’t do it because you won’t let us.” Buildings, I think, is the biggest thing because that’s the one place that’s closest to what municipalities can control directly, is building codes and building stock.

Carson: I agree, that’s something I’ve been interested in for a while, too. I heard they did something in Douro-Dummer with some better building codes.

Guy: It’s amazing you’ve heard of that, and it’s great! The guy who is the local champion about that, I’m always forgetting the name…

Carson: Chris Magwood! He came and spoke at one of our classes last fall, he was great.

Guy: Then you know all about it, it’s all about zero embodied carbon. And what they did in Douro-Dummer is something that any municipality can do, is just give a break on your building code if you use the materials that Chris Magwood stamps. So that’s one of the things that we want to push in the townships especially. Because the townships can probably do it, they’re more likely to do it than the City. But it’s a brilliant idea. I tried to contact the guy from Douro-Dummer who was the champion of that and he didn’t get back to me, and of course I didn’t follow up, but I wanted to get him to come to talk to me to say, “how can we get that to happen in all of the townships?”

Another thing is to try to at least have awareness campaigns in the townships so that people can recognize that if they change over from a home that’s powered by oil or propane to one that’s powered by electricity using an air source heat pump, they can see the investment pays for itself within five years, even with the very high price of electricity. It doesn’t work for people who are running on natural gas, because natural gases are a really inexpensive form of electricity. But in the townships, many people are still heating with propane or oil, and they could just save money if they’re prepared to invest in a change. In five years, even with the price of electricity the way it is today. And maybe the municipalities can’t do anything, but I was just talking with a neighbor about it today, we’ve got a big housing development that’s going to happen up north of us, and I believe that the township would have within their purview the ability to say, “you’re not putting natural gas in there at all, zero natural gas is going into that place, you just can’t do it. It’s going to have to be done with electricity. Use air source heat pumps, everybody will be better off.”

When I’ve talked to real estate people, they say nobody’s willing to pay the extra price to have a more efficient house. It’s so short-term thinking, that just because it costs you a couple thousand less to buy it, you’re not going to wind up spending all that money in the first five years on energy. So people are just shocked, their behavior’s determined by the sticker price, not by the total cost of ownership. And that’s human nature. People don’t tend to go to the next level of, “what’s the total cost of ownership?”

Those are two of the things that we’re going to try and work on at the townships when Covid allows us to meet them in person. And we’ve signed up, we called them township climate ambassadors. Once we can get together again, we will all meet and we’ll talk about these programs and we’ll say, “okay, now it’s time to go and talk to all your counselors on your township Council.” Talk to them about these ideas and then make presentations to Council and then see if we can get these done. Because we were talking about things that townships can do and there’s not much that a township can do because they’re so small and mostly what they have to do is collect garbage and pave the roads. But there’s a little bit of room for them to do some of the actions that we have in mind like what Douro-Dummer did.

Carson: Well, that’s the end of my list of questions. Thank you so much for your responses! Is there anything else you want to add to this?

Guy: No. Can you go out there and help us save the world, Carson?

Carson: I’m doing my best!

Guy: I know you are. How far along are you in your master’s degree?

Carson: I started last fall, so almost a year now. The first eight months were classes and doing research ethics and planning. Now I’ve been doing these interviews and research all summer, so you’re my 12th person, I think.

Guy: I hope great things come out of it. Keep me informed when your thesis comes out, let me see it, or before that, let me to look at it.

Carson: For sure! I have a few backlog interviews to get to, but I’ll transcribe this and send it back in a couple weeks. And then later in the fall, we could try to organize a little meeting.

SubscribeSubscribe to one of 4RG's Newsletters

Click below to subscribe to any of our monthly newsletter. You can always unsubscribe at any time.