Ottawans Know Why they Showed Up on a Cold Grey Day to Protest Bill 23
By Alice Irene Whittaker
Every single one of us could have chosen not to show up. Yet on a cold, gray December morning, many Ottawa citizens, organizations, and City Councillors showed up outside the Provincial Courthouse on Elgin, joining together from downtown, suburban and rural areas of the city to say no to the province’s Bill 23.
Why did we decide to show up, despite competing priorities and alluring distractions? We each showed up for many different - but interconnected - reasons. From an environmental perspective, we showed up because of a few facts we know for certain.
- We know that no one is coming to protect our home - this place where we live, this ecology of which we are a part - which is under threat with Bill 23, a far-reaching provincial piece of legislation that is a threat to democracy, the environment, and affordability and livability for Ontarians. We know that we citizens are the ones who need to protect this place when it is under attack.
- We know that we are facing intersecting crises, including environmental breakdown. At this moment of upheaval we need to be doing much more, and certainly not less, to protect ourselves from climate change and biodiversity loss.
- We know that our city, and other cities and communities across the province, deserve to make our own local decisions on land use planning, including the extent of our urban boundary. We deserve to protect ourselves from the worst excesses of urban sprawl, which means more driving and more greenhouse gas emissions, further exacerbating the climate emergency.
- We know that our cherished wetlands, forests, urban parks, and the many species who call these greenspaces habitat are irreplaceable. Natural spaces are vital to our physical and mental health, reducing flooding, reducing overheating, as well as for their own inherent value. Changing how wetlands are evaluated and protected, as this Bill does, will leave many of our greenspaces at risk of losing their designation and protection. We know that agricultural lands are integral to food security and a thriving local food system.
- We know it would be environmentally disastrous for Ontario to attack its Conservation Authorities, whom the province has benefited from for decades. Their meaningful approach to decision-making on planning, based not on political boundaries but instead on the watershed perspective, is the hallmark of their conservation work, protecting ecosystems and habitats on a regional scale.
- We know that, in the context of Ottawa’s declared climate emergency, removing green building standards enacted by cities across the province is environmentally risky, and must be reinstated if we are to meet our climate targets.
- We know that when we face intersecting crises as formidable as those with which we are confronted, our solutions also need to be interconnected - and that meeting housing needs could be an opportunity to address affordability and accessibility while also improving energy efficiency and building green infrastructure and community gardens. We know we could and should be fostering 15-minute neighbourhoods where people can access services and build community, while green spaces flourish.
- Lastly, we know that there are other groups of citizens, just like us, gathering in public spaces to protest Bill 23, and that we are connected to them in our resistance. We know that if each of us shows up, and tells people in our lives about why, we will inspire others and the influence of this movement to repeal Bill 23 can grow.
However, it is not just what we know that brought us here today. It is also what we feel: a feeling of deep love for the ecology that we call home, a feeling of injustice, anger and disbelief that it can be so recklessly eroded, and a feeling that, no matter how this turns out, it is worth showing up for the home we love.