Recently, Grant, one of my team members, and I had to attend some meetings in the Sault area. So, I took advantage of the opportunity to make some calls while I had a driver and free hands. It was also an excellent opportunity for us to review my schedule and discuss many items at length outside of the concentrated, high-pressure atmosphere in the office. Spending Monday to Thursday in Queen’s Park, then driving back to the riding before dawn on Friday, means we have to use my time in the constituency office very efficiently.
Grant has been with me since day one. He opted out of a long-time career in education to come work on my team but still has a perpetual interest in students and education. He told me that one of the joys he has missed because of the pandemic is scheduling the many visits I make to elementary and secondary school classrooms. I love interacting with curious young minds. It’s a chance to listen to what is foremost on kids’ minds, hear what is important to them and see where they see themselves and this world in the years to come. It’s a chance to work with curious young minds before they become inundated with preconceived notions and the negativity of which this world can be full. After all, one day, my own life will be in their hands as future leaders.
Children and students often have far more knowledge than we might expect. In fact, I’d venture to say that some students’ understanding might exceed their elders. They may not have all of the scientific explanations or technical terms and definitions, but our youth have eyes, ears and minds that are wide open. When I am invited to visit a class, whether for the study of physics, to see a special presentation, class project on any subject, or talk about any local concern the children may have, I seldom have to prepare much other than reviewing NDP policies and positions. Most adults don’t believe kids have the ability to understand such messages. But I say, those people would be mistaken. The key is to use language and experience that is within their grasp.
By way of an example of students’ interest and understanding of the world around them, some readers might be interested in looking up online the NDP’s environmental plan called The Green New Democratic Deal. Take a moment and look at the brief list of NDP commitments to the people of Ontario. You can download it here, https://www.ontariondp.ca/sites/default/files/gndd_-_en_-_sm1.pdf
The list includes commitments such as: Bring Ontario to Net-Zero Emissions, Change How We Move: Transform Transportation, Protect Our Water and Green Spaces, Cut Down Waste and Foster Climate Change Resilience, to name but a few.
I believe that if we want our children and youth in Ontario to have a healthy and prosperous future, major investment is necessary, wise and economically feasible. However, in reality, the cost of inaction when it comes to the climate crisis will be far higher than the investments we must make now to secure a safer, more prosperous future. For example, it is estimated that if the global average temperature is allowed to rise to the levels we’re currently on track to hit, the cost of the climate crisis in Ontario could grow from $5 billion annually today to more than $41 billion. We must make essential investments now to avoid such an outcome.
The thing is, it is we adults today who must make essential investments right now to avoid the above outcome. We can’t wait any longer for the wiser generation to grow up and make this happen on their dime. We have to set them up today to ensure their success. And those lessons have to be delivered every day in school, in the community and our own homes. To fund the Green New Democratic Deal, an Ontario NDP government will re-direct spending, generate a mix of new revenue streams, fair carbon pricing.
I know that many readers of this column share the pride I have in Algoma-Manitoulin’s vast forests, productive farmland and abundant freshwater. But these resources are increasingly at risk. In the last 100 years, the province has lost 73 percent of Ontario’s natural habitats, including forests, fields, wetlands and marshes. As a result, many species are at risk. Some even face extinction.
The Ford government has surreptitiously instituted an anti-environment agenda under the guise of efficiency and eliminating tape. It has increased the risk of endangered species and their habitats in the North and across the province. Ford has made repeated attempts to pave over the Greenbelt. He cut the authority of Conservation Authorities. Under cover of the COVID-19 pandemic, his government passed legislation to allow itself to override environmental protections and public input on development. The Ford government’s disdain for climate change runs very deep. So deep that they ordered those drafting the new Ministry of Education science curriculum to remove the term Climate Change from the document. Now it is not introduced until the fifth grade.
Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZO) were originally intended to be used sparingly in areas with no municipal governance or to quickly advance provincial initiatives. But as my colleague NDP environment critic Sandy Shaw said recently, “With the stroke of a pen, a developer can go in and start building on land, whether it’s historically important or it’s on wetlands … it is a really heavy-handed tool for the government to be using when it comes to how we plan to build our cities.”
My friend Autumn Peltier, a clean-water activist from Wiikwemkoong First Nation Unceded Territory and many other indigenous friends have helped me to understand that water is life. Autumn has been nominated three times for the International Children’s Peace Prize and continues to fight for Indigenous communities worldwide.
Autumn is a prime example of what knowledge, wisdom and strength is possible to inspire and develop in our youth. The key, however, is that we take action now. The provincial election on June 2nd is a great time to tell politicians and government leaders that they need to do something to ensure the survival and prosperity of our children, our wildlife, our province and our world environment before it is too late.
Grant never lets me forget what an honour it is to be part of preparing our youth to lead us tomorrow. He reminds me that we must not hesitate to talk to our children about their visions of the world and our future. Use language, experiences and concepts that they relate to so that in turn they can help you understand what they see, hear and know. And when you do share with them, remember why our Creator gave us two ears and one mouth – meaning listen to your children twice as you speak or tell them something.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at [email protected] or phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.