Just few weeks ago I joined a volunteer group that, with leadership from Ecology Ottawa, was encouraged to work together to ask our local MP to host a meeting on how the Canadian federal government plans on addressing climate change in order to meet the commitments made in the Paris COP21 agreement. Especially due to the recent launch of the consultation period for the proposed Energy East pipeline, we wanted to impress upon our federal Member of Parliament that climate change matters here locally, and that a new pipeline to carry bitumen for export that crosses our local Ottawa watersheds is not in anyone’s best interest.
One hitch - our MP for Ottawa Centre is actually the Honourable Catherine McKenna, currently the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. As the Minister, McKenna has a direct say in what Canada does to meet the Paris climate commitments, and whether or not to approve the Energy East pipeline. This brought our little volunteer group’s efforts to a new level! While we were working on writing a letter to McKenna asking for a public meeting with her constituents, we started to hear that McKenna herself was going to host a public “climate consultation” meeting - and in just a week or two! Much of the grassroots organizing movement is based on getting a lot of people out to these kinds of events, and we didn’t have much time to discuss strategy; just time to get the information to Ottawa Centre constituents and hope that we could pack the room with like-minded individuals! People who would speak up and show our federal representative that addressing climate change is an important conversation, and that her constituents have not given her a ‘social licence’ to approve the Energy East pipeline.
Our little volunteer group sprung into action! Once getting confirmation that McKenna’s climate consultation was a go for April 28, 2016, my role as the newly tagged group 'leader’ was to work with the Ecology Ottawa staff to get lists of people who had previously volunteered with the organization and live in Ottawa Centre, and have team members make phone calls to ask people to attend the consultation coming up in less than a week. During this, I was very impressed by the call-to-action and response of the community, Ecology Ottawa and other grassroots organizations. I was added to an email chain of a few fellow organizers from 350 . org, Council of Canadians and more, and their ability to mobilize and provide content on climate change for people to read prior to the consultation was truly inspiring! Together we got over 50 people out to a pre-meeting to discuss how to get our message across at the consultation, and we all walked over to the main event together, in solidarity.
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The consultation itself was very interesting, and I thought, well-run. I was skeptical when the invitation from McKenna’s office asked us to pick a themed break-out group, imagining that we’d be in different rooms and not able to show that we all had a similar message about the appropriate path(s) forward. However, instead, each group was at a round table all in the same hall, and the room was packed full - it was inspiring to see how many constituents cared deeply about the issue. The discussion at our table was heated, but balanced with facts. A lot of talk about how to reduce emissions from the agricultural industry, how to change our road systems to remove the dominance of cars, and how to move towards renewable energies - how to fund that kind of innovation. There were a lot of engaged, well-spoken people (neighbours!) at the table, and we had a competent volunteer note-taker, who was charged with summarizing our table’s ideas at the end of the evening in only 60 seconds! Hearing the 60-second summaries from all the tables across the room (over 20 tables, I’d say) was inspiring. There was definitely a message that we want a reduction in the use of fossil fuels, and no new pipelines!
McKenna herself walked around the room during the event, dropping into certain table discussions, and chatting with people around the margins as well. As a representative from Ecology Ottawa’s “Renewable City Ottawa Centre” volunteer team, I went over and introduced myself, and handed Catherine a draft copy of our letter of invitation asking for another townhall meeting with her and her constituents.
“This meeting is overflowing,” i said to Catherine, “we need another public townhall meeting, and more time for your constituents to hear about your proposed climate change action plan for Canada, and for your constituents, in turn, to describe exactly what issues relating to the climate crisis are important to them.”She agreed, and pointed to the newly released federal ‘climate action plan’ at www.canada.ca/climateaction. The webpage consists of a web portal where all Canadians can submit their ideas to “Be part of the conversation on climate change,” as well as information on how to “Host your own town hall on climate change” with your own MP. She suggested to me that if she is too busy to accept our request for a meeting, we could have the town hall meeting ourselves, and submit the results through that portal. While I appreciate her already clearly demonstrated strong commitment to the issue, desire to have all Canadians connect with their MP about it, and busy schedule, we want to talk directly to our federal representative, not just do the work and submit something into the online ether!
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So, onwards we go! Our little volunteer group, now well-established and practiced, along with many others like it around Ottawa and across Canada, will continue to build community support for environmental issues, including standing strong that the Energy East pipeline is not wanted for Canada, or in Ottawa’s watersheds. More oil infrastructure is not the direction we want our federal government to take!
Look for Ecology Ottawa’s volunteer community teams all across the city, and especially in Ottawa Centre, this summer; knocking on your door to have face-to-face conversations about what is important to you, at events such as the Great Glebe GREEN Garage Sale (May 28 at Bank & Glebe all day long!), and standing up for all environmental issues affecting the City of Ottawa!