If at the beginning of 2012 you had asked me to list a few words to describe myself, I might have chosen words like “wife”, “aunt”, “godmother”, “environmental advocate”, “news junkie” and “theatre lover”, to name a few. But I can tell you that nowhere on this list would you ever have seen this one word – “radical”.
But come the end of January that was the word being attached to my work as an environmental advocate, and to all those who work tirelessly to ensure that protection of our air and water isn’t an afterthought, but is a foundation of our social and economic health. We were also being called “enemies of the state” for our views, another descriptor you would not have found on my list.
As I look back on this year and see the devastation left behind by a federal government that sees the environment – and its protection – as an impediment to an economy they believe should be solely built on resource extraction, I’m left wondering – who exactly are the radicals here?
Canadians have consistently indicated that they place a high priority on the protection of our environment. From a commitment to parks to tackling climate change, Canadians value a healthy environment and see it as fundamental to our identity. Most recently, an Ipsos Reid poll found that over 4 in 5 Canadians (85%) say federal laws protecting species at risk are crucial to the diversity and abundance of wildlife.
Yet today, environmental assessment has been weakened and our oceans and rivers – and all the creatures that call them home – have less protection than ever before. And we all know the carnage isn’t over. It seems that our government is out of sync with Canadians and it is they who are acting in a radical way.
Now, the de-regulation of environmental protection in Canada is frightening enough, but that those who would disagree with government policy become the target of inflammatory attacks from a democratically elected government should all give us pause. The government’s decision to provide Canada Revenue Agency with additional funding to audit charities at a time when cuts to scientific research and environmental monitoring have been slashed underscores this strange reality we live in. The current environment is so concerning that Pen Canada, an organization who works with others to defend freedom of expression as a basic human right, at home and abroad, has voiced its concerns. This is an organization that is often flagging human rights violations in countries with few democratic rights, which says a lot about what they see happening in Canada.
Through all this, what I have found even more mind-boggling is the accusation that environmental groups have a secret agenda. That sounds scary until you realize that our agenda is quite transparent, it’s just that it is beyond the understanding of our government and its supporters. What we want is to build a different world than the one the oil and gas industry has decided we should live in. We care about our communities and strongly believe we can have strong environmental health and a strong economy – we just have to start doing things differently.
This has been a year like no other in my time at Georgia Strait Alliance, but I’m actually feeling quite hopeful because I see a lot of good has come out of this “annus horribilis”. What heartens me most is that these attacks have resulted in a more galvanized and cohesive social justice community. Charities of all types have come out in support of environmental groups and voiced loudly their concern about a government that believes disagreement should be quashed. In effect, the results have been not a quieting of opposition but a more thoughtful and emboldened movement because when you are being attacked for your right to speak out, this is not time to be silent. And I can assure you as we go into 2013, we will not be.
Thanks to all of you who have supported Georgia Strait Alliance and other environmental groups during this past year. We are your voice in these terrible times and by making a charitable donation, you allow our voice to be stronger – as we will need to be in the year ahead.