No time to be silent

It’s an unfortunate fact that when you are an advocate for improved environmental health and literacy, being in disagreement with government leaders frequently comes with the territory. As challenging as that can feel, the focus of disagreement generally tends to be about the issue at hand—and not about our right to hold certain views, or represent others who do.

So I found it more than a bit shocking when this year began with a visible and intense outpouring, in just about every media outlet in the country, of vitriol, anger and outright lies about environmental groups. Although the context for the attacks was the review process on the proposed Enbridge pipeline in northern BC, the tremors were felt throughout Canada’s environmental movement and in much of our broader civil society.

These inflammatory attacks have been disturbing on many levels. Some of them revealed that all you need is a conspiracy theory and a website in order to undermine the civil engagement that is at the root of our democratic process—ironically, at the same time as most of the world, including Canada, has been expressing justifiable outrage about the trampling of democratic rights in Syria. More worrisome attacks, coming from our Prime Minister and some of his Cabinet, took aim at the financial support that makes advocacy work possible and even hinted at possibly stripping environmental groups of their charitable status.

But in all the misguided conspiracy theories and hyperbolic diatribes, what disturbed me the most was this: that we were told that the opinion of you, Mr. or Ms. Average Canadian, does not matter when it comes to what our shared future looks like—and that the person who said this was one of our federal government’s highest officials.

In his Open Letter, the Honorable Joe Oliver, Minister of Natural Resources, clearly discounted the opinions of the approximately 4500 individuals who wished to speak at the Enbridge hearings—while overvaluing the opinions of oil industry representatives.

Regardless of how or why each person signed up to speak, each of them clearly cares enough about the issue to take the time to attend and address the hearings. That many of the speakers may have a similar message is not a reason to discount that message—in fact, it’s a reason to pay closer attention. These passionate voices share a common vision for what they want our future to look like: a world free of fossil fuels and the risks that come with them, where renewable energy lights our way.

It’s also worth reminding Mr. Oliver and our other leaders that each of these speakers represents thousands more who, for whatever reason, will not be at the hearings, so their message needs to be taken into consideration by the panel and the government that appointed them.

These are frightening times when it comes to the protection of our most important resources: clean air, clean water and healthy ecosystems on land and water. Over the last many decades, big industry has increasingly had the ear of our elected representatives, while ordinary citizens are only valued at election time.

Today, as we await the release of the federal budget which may include dramatic deregulation of environmental protection laws, the ability to protect our natural environment could become even more difficult. We are at risk of seeing the weakening of the very pillars that Canadians have relied on for generations to ensure that the natural environment we value so dearly is protected, including the Fisheries Act, Species at Risk Act, Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act and Canadian Environmental Protection Act –

Ironically the result of the targeted attacks on our environmental protection laws and on the very groups who work every day to ensure Canadian values are not lost in a rush for short term economic profit, has been a renewed commitment among environmental groups to work even harder on behalf of the communities we represent. We have also seen a renewed commitment of individuals to provide the needed financial support so groups like ours can continue this vital work.

If we have learned anything so far this year, it is that those citizens who might disagree with our federal leaders’ views on the environment need the help of advocates now more than ever. Georgia Strait Alliance will continue to speak out and work on behalf of our many members and supporters, advocating for our region’s future to be one with healthy communities, rich salmon runs, growing orca populations and sustainable economies. That is our promise to you.

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