Two seemingly unrelated events occurred on August 20, 2019, with surprise announcements from the federal and provincial governments. Each was potentially extremely damaging, as we attempt to come to terms with the fragility of life on our planet and our relationship to the natural world.
The first was the announcement that Elections Canada is warning environmental groups that running climate change ads could be seen as partisan activity during the federal election campaign. An Elections Canada official told groups in a training session that since Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People’s Party of Canada, has expressed doubts about the legitimacy of climate change, any group that promotes it as an issue in its paid advertising could be considered partisan, and might need to register as a third party with Elections Canada, becoming subject to tight limitations in spending.
While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, no one is entitled to their own facts. This interpretation introduces a chill that means citizens will be deprived of science-based information supplied by people who have spent their entire careers researching the issues. It will mean an absence of information about what is, objectively, a climate change crisis.
To say the least, this is “wrong, harmful and dangerous,” according to legal experts. Environmental groups play a critical role as “non-partisan voices” during an election by calling out the critical difference between truth and opinion. Now is a moment when we can ill afford to muzzle their voices, as the basic facts and science around climate change are under pervasive attack by many…including, of course, the POTUS.
While everyone is entitled to their own opinions, no one is entitled to their own facts.
The second upset this week was a directive by Jeff Yurek, Ontario Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks, to the province’s 36 conservation authorities, restricting activities to their “core mission” and ordering them to “wind down” programming related to activities such as water quality monitoring, tree planting, trail development and woodlot management. Ironically, many of the prohibited activities have been identified as significant money makers, contributing to the Authorities’ budgets.
The province’s conservation authorities together own 150,000 acres of land in Ontario, and operate more than 500 conservation areas. They play a vital role in shaping the way the places we live and work relate to the natural world. Yurek’s out-of-the-blue directive creates uncertainty around future programming and operations. Its ostensible purpose is described as cost saving, but there is reason to believe that the real motivation has to do with easing restrictions for developers by weakening the conservation authorities.
What do these two directives have in common? They suppress our ability to see and understand our place in the natural world. By seemingly endorsing the idea that and that the reality of human-induced climate change is a matter of partisan belief, we weaken our ability to have an informed electorate and support those who would hold us back from taking concerted and urgent action.
…there is reason to believe that the real motivation has to do with easing restrictions for developers by weakening the conservation authorities.
By limiting the conservation authorities to a narrow “mitigation of harm” mandate that excludes education, programming and human engagement with nature in urban environments, we are depriving our citizens of a valuable resource: deeper appreciation and enjoyment of the natural world and an understanding of our interdependence within it.
By failing to acknowledge the connectedness of the urban and natural worlds, we are increasing our vulnerability with severe consequences for future generations. At a moment when we have the tools and knowledge to do better and the vast majority of the public is coming to an understanding of this connectedness, it is unthinkable that we would hold ourselves back in such perverse ways.