A Nanaimo woman hopes Canadians will rise up on the country’s birthday to protest the dismantling of environmental protection programs in the federal government’s budget.
Dana Haggarty, a marine biologist on educational leave from Parks Canada, wants Canadians to send the federal Conservatives a message by wearing green on Canada Day (July 1) instead of the usual red and white.
The Conservatives’ omnibus budget bill introduced last month, Bill C-38, includes legislative changes to Old Age Security, Employment Insurance, health care, immigration and more.
But it’s program cuts, layoffs and amendments to environmental assessment, including the federal Fisheries Act and Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, that have many Canadians upset and Haggarty looking to make a difference.
Having worked for the federal government, she said she is aware of where the public service cuts have landed and their impacts.
“Because of my interest in the environment, in particular the marine and aquatic sciences, the stories of cuts and closures to scientific labs have really affected me,” she said. “Colleagues of mine working on ecological integrity monitoring lost their jobs from the cuts.”
The last straw for Haggarty was hearing about cuts to a program regarding contaminant research on marine mammals.
It was then she came up with the ‘I Will Wear Green’ campaign.
“To be able to handle my disillusionment over all these cuts, I had to think of something positive that I could do,” she said.
Canada Day is one of Haggarty’s favourite holidays, when the country transforms into a sea of patriotic red and white. This year she would like to see green added to the celebrations.
“Wouldn’t it be great if people wore green to send a message that the environment is important to us?” she said. “If you look at the polls of how many people feel strongly about the environment, I don’t think they buy the line the government gives us that the majority of Canadians support these cuts. Canada is its environment and we’re seeing it dismantled.”
Christianne Wilhelmson, Georgia Strait Alliance executive director, said efforts like Haggarty’s are welcome.
“There are still a lot of Canadians who are not aware of what’s going on. The announcements are coming at a pretty rapid rate and it can sometimes numb people to what’s happening,” said Wilhelmson. “The more we can do in different ways to get the message out of this government’s attack on democracy the better.”
Bob Jackson, Public Service Alliance of Canada regional vice-president, said the nearly 400 union members in the central Island survived relatively unscathed in the first round of cuts, but that’s not to say layoffs won’t happen.
“DFO has been mandated to cut $73 million from its total budget, and what we’ve seen so far is they haven’t reached that,” he said. “We’re anticipating more cuts.”
Jackson said the public needs to be aware of how severe some of these cuts are going to be and the union is encouraging people to have a conversation with their MP.
“Make an appointment to meet them at their constituency office, pick up a pen or send an e-mail and ask them the rationale for doing this,” he said. “This government doesn’t have the mandate to do what they’re doing. The people of this country don’t want to see it dismantled bit by bit.”
James Lunney, Nanaimo-Alberni Conservative MP, said the government is not out to destroy the environment.
“We are working to make sure environmental laws are applied in a way that actually benefits the environment and not just create a process that wastes a lot of money,” he said. “There are a lot of changes in the budget because we’ve been through five and half years of minority, dysfunctional parliament that has delayed decisions that should have been introduced long ago.”
Haggarty has received positive comments on the campaign from others who fear for the environment, and hopes the momentum continues to build. Nanaimo’s Canada Day celebrations take place from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Maffeo Sutton Park.
“It’s a great, simple, visual initiative that could have a big impact,” she said. “We’ll have T-shirts and logos, or people can just pull out the shirt they normally wear on St. Patrick’s Day.”
For more information, please go to www.weargreencanada.org.