Right off the bat, I want to say I’m sorry to all my readers for being relatively quiet this month. I have an excuse, however: I am now officially back to school, this time pursuing Master of Science in Environmental Sustainability at the University of Ottawa, Canada.
Having moved to a new city in which I’m about to spend the next two years of my life, I’m now familiarizing myself with new surroundings, making new acquaintances, and of course, slowly getting in tune with the current ideas and attitudes that occupy the minds of Canadians.
During my first week in Canada, I had a chance to speak with many different people from various social strata. Many of them, young and old alike, pin their hopes on the election. Both in Toronto and Ottawa, younger generation seems to be supporting Justin Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, others stand behind the New Democratic Party. I had a chance to chat with a couple of businessmen, who backed up (perhaps unsurprisingly) the current PM, Stephen Harper, the leader of the Conservatives.
While it is absolutely understood that the conflicting passions are currently boiling and there are plethora of different opinions, one thing is clear: many people want change. They are worried about their future, the future of their kids and grandchildren. And since environmental issues are such an important part of the everyday agenda in Canada, it is inevitable that many citizens are concerned about their right to live in a healthy environment. And what could be a better place to speak your thoughts out loud than Ottawa, the nation’s capital?
On September 2nd, I attended an event at the Parliament Hill, the very heart of Canada’s politics, which was organized by the local enthusiasts of the Blue Dot Movement, a citizen-action initiative organized by David Suzuki Foundation. David Suzuki, a world-known Canadian academic and environmental activist, founded the David Suzuki Foundation in 1990, with the goal of finding “ways for society to live in balance with the natural world that does sustain us”. Blue Dot Movement is striving to have “all levels of government recognize our right to clean air, clean water, and healthy food”. In attempt to increase awareness among the people and bring attention to current problems, Derek Olive, an environmental activist and musician from Montreal, decided to go on a cycling tour all across Canada (covering 3055 km in total), supporting and telling his listeners about Blue Dot Movement and its goals.
At 5:30 PM, I’m at the Parliament Hill, Ottawa. As usual, several police cars and security guards are around the place. A flock of birds enjoys the last rays of the setting sun on the lawn. And a small, but devoted group of supporters makes itself comfortable on the stairs to the main parliamentary building. They are here to give it up for Derek, and for two local musicians playing along with him: Patricia Reynolds, educator and musician, and Chris White, a local singer-songwriter and one of the founders of Ottawa Folk Festival.
Chris White is also known for his involvement with the song “Harperman”, a protest song against the Conservative government written and sung by Tony Turner, a singer-songwriter and a geographer with Environment Canada (who, according to the press, may now lose his job as a public servant after being suspended for allegedly breaching the bureaucracy’s ethical code by singing a protest song). Small crowd cheered when White invited everybody to join him for the chorus of Harperman, which was performed by the aforementioned trio along with some folk classics, This Land Is Your Land by Woody Guthrie, Yellow Submarine by The Beatles, a few Canadian folk songs, and a couple of originals written by Derek Olive himself.
Of course, I did not miss my chance to speak to Derek after the applause for the last song subsided. When I asked him about his opinion on the level of environmental awareness in Canada, from the perspective of a man who just cycled across the country, Olive stated that sadly, a lot of Canadians are unaware of pollution levels in their areas. “The current government changed the legislation, and people are being denied their rights to know about environmental performance in their communities”, said Olive. He pointed out that Ottawa River (read more on this topic in “The story of Ottawa River: Priceless and precarious” by The Globe And Mail’s Roy Macgregor) is dirty and unsafe to drink, and that a very few people are aware of this.
I immediately recalled a discussion I recently had with a businessman in his mid-fifties, whom I met on the train going from Toronto to Ottawa. A government relations consultant with a vast experience in public affairs in Ontario, he became interested when I told him I’m about to pursue a master degree in Environmental Sustainability. With a slight ironic smile crinkling up the corners of his mouth, he told me that in his opinion, the situation with environment in Canada is not that bad as “some environmentalists” are trying to present, doing so for their own benefit. Among the things we discussed during the trip was his disbelief that human activity is the main cause of the global climate change, his contentment with the conservation efforts of the small game in Canada – being an avid hunter, he applauds current proliferation of ducks – and his opinion on Ottawa River’s pollution. He did not believe the river is that polluted. “I myself took a swim quite a few times in it, it’s quite normal”, he said. “But if you want to have a swim, mind you, the water is cold”.
I did not have enough time to ask him about his personal opinion on the current government, but somehow I think that he would have expressed support for Stephen Harper.
Stephen Harper’s government may have drawn a lot of criticism from environmental activists and scientists (see links below), but one of his strong cards that he may use against his opponents is that under the Conservative Party government, Canada has reduced greenhouse gas emissions from 749 to 726 (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq), compared to an enormous increase in greenhouse gas emissions from 600 to 749 (Mt) that happened under the previous liberal government from 1993 to 2006 (National Greenhouse Gas Emissions data, http://www.ec.gc.ca/indicateurs-indicators/default.asp?lang=en&n=FBF8455E-1). However, the same chart clearly shows that the emissions’ amount is currently on the rise again – it rose from 699 (Mt) in 2009, to 725 (Mt) in 2013.
As I was going home from the Parliament Hill, I passed two young guys having a heated discussion on the Keystone Pipeline. And in that exact moment, my first week in Canada ended.
Much work is ahead of me now; many things are to be discovered; many facts are to be learned about the environmental situation of the Land of The Maple Leaf, all of which I will be sharing with you.
Read more on the David Suzuki Foundation:
Blue Dot Movement:
Derek Olive’s website:
On Derek Olive’s cycling tour across Canada:
“Canadian public servant Tony Turner likely to be sacked after his folk song ‘Harperman’ goes viral“, by The Canberra Times: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/public-service/canadian-public-servant-tony-turner-likely-to-be-sacked-after-his-folk-song-harperman-goes-viral-20150902-gjd7r6.html
“Federal scientist put on leave over Harperman protest song”, by CBC News, Canada
Cross-Canada Harperman Sing Along, by Chris White:
On Stephen Harper’s government allegedly silencing scientists that have something to say on the environmental situation:
#canada #environmentalawareness #stephenharper #harperman #tonyturner #elections2015 #derekolive #bluedotmovement #chriswhite #davidsuzukifoundation