Concerned Islanders meet to discuss a Green New Deal for Canada

The group gathered in Providence Bay for the inaugural Green New Deal discussion on Manitoulin Island managed to highlight a number of their highest priority must-haves as well as the things they would like to see left out of the potential legislation.

PROVIDENCE BAY – A large congregation descended upon the former United Church in Providence Bay recently, though the people gathered there were not meeting to discuss religion—they were there to discuss the future of planet Earth.

“There are 80 of these meetings taking place across Canada. We want to bring these issues forward and people are coming. People fully acknowledge this need and I hope this will influence this fall’s election, to see people coming together like this,” said Gerry Smith, the organizer of the event.

The Providence Bay meeting was held in conjunction with many meetings of its kind that were all supported by Leadnow, which bills itself as a “people-powered movement fighting for a better Canada.” It advocates for environmental health, a just society, fair economy and open democracy and states that it is not tied to any political parties.

Mr. Smith is part of the group’s mailing list and, recently, the organization has been pushing for people to implement similar legislation to the loosely-proposed “Green New Deal” (GND) popularized by US house representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Exactly what the GND is becomes a much more difficult question to answer. At its present state, it mainly consists of a set of high-level policy suggestions that would address the ever-growing threat of climate change on the planet. It is designed to address that threat while also fostering economic growth and job creation. It also seeks to evenly distribute economic and other benefits among all people in the country.

The name of the GND was inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1930s-era ‘New Deal’ that was geared to bring the country back to prosperity during the Great Depression. Some of the GND’s loftier goals include fossil fuel-free transportation by 2050, zero emissions from energy in that same year and achieving zero waste by 2040.

“I have taken part in some environmental initiatives in the past,” said Mr. Smith. “I’ve been really inspired recently by Greta Thunburg (the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist), who helped get this movement going. I had to do something.”

Talk of the need for environmental policies has been circulating among Manitoulin discussion groups for quite some time and in early May, Mr. Smith announced his plans to host a town hall to gather Islanders’ perspectives on what may be needed to combat climate change in a sustainable way moving forward.

Community members quickly added their names to the list and an offer for the meeting space followed shortly thereafter. Weeks of discussion and promotion of the meeting culminated in late May when 21 people joined Mr. Smith in Providence Bay for the meeting.

“I would love to see more people getting involved. Everyone has the urge to see change, but often feel helpless,” he said.

The meeting, held at the former Providence Bay United Church, involved a discussion circle where participants shared their thoughts about what policy ideas would be most appropriate for Manitoulin.
photos by Warren Schlote

These meetings were designed to “help shape a shared vision for how we can slash emissions, create millions of jobs, lift up Indigenous rights and build inclusive communities.” LeadNow hosted training sessions for the volunteer leaders to teach them what they needed to know before running an event.

The desired outcome was creating a list of aspects that needed to be included in a Green New Deal and another list of items that must not be included. Participants gathered in a large circle in the former church hall and began to circulate ideas. 

Provincial Green Party candidate for Algoma-Manitoulin Justin Tilson was present and expressed his unease with the Conservatives’ plans for the environment. He advocated for teamwork over insularity.

“We’re all in this together. I’d rather be in a co-operative paradigm than a confrontational one,” he said.

Participants suggested a number of points to include in a Canadian GND: freeze fossil fuel extraction while converting fossil fuel workers to green industry employees; foster community hubs for sharing; expand technologies to become waste neutral; take a grassroots approach to climate stewardship that begins in schools; develop new language to describe economic prosperity; encourage urban environments rather than urban sprawl; put a price on pollution; reduce planned obsolescence and implement product lifetime stewardship; take a non-partisan approach; foster a deep, meaningful relationship with Indigenous peoples on all levels and do so in a humble way; find renewable resource opportunities in collaboration with Indigenous peoples; a non-partisan cabinet within the federal government; have all-electric vehicles by 2030 and taxing places of worship.

The group decided on a smaller number of ‘red line’ issues, those that must not be included in a GND. These included zero tolerance for corporate personhood and a reversal of that status, zero tolerance for industrial resource depletion for profit, citing Nestlé’s water extraction contracts as an example, zero tolerance for single use plastics which would be enforced through high taxation for non-compliance, zero tolerance for power-based ideologies such as capitalism and materialism and including no references to any political party-based platforms.

There seemed to be energy in the room that the discussion was far from over, and many in the old church sanctuary vowed to reconvene to discuss these deals in the future.

“I’ve really been feeling like part of the community here, and I only moved (to Providence Bay from Stoney Creek) five days ago,” said Mr. Smith.

“People came out and they really want to do this again. If there’s people who were not out tonight, they can certainly come next time,” he added.

Information about this movement to create a Canadian GND can be found at GreenNewDealCanada.ca, or by contacting Mr. Smith at WillTheCircle@gmail.com.