The cost of environmental activism
By Camen Marie Fabio
PHOTO BY CARMEN MARIE FABIO
Frustrated with government delays and inaction when it comes to protecting environmentally sensitive land, some residents are reaching into their own pockets to take action on their own and the price can be high.
With the dire daily news about climate change, carbon footprints, greenhouse gas and threatened ecological hotspots, what does it take for the average citizen to make changes in their own backyards? Unfortunately, it can take a lot of time, energy, and money from their own pockets.
“I don’t really want to disclose the amount,” said Pincourt Vert member and Pincourt resident Shelagh McNally, “because I don’t want to discourage other people from getting involved.” McNally did agree to reveal that, along with fellow member Carole Reed, they paid a five-figure sum to have a year-long environmental assessment carried out to help save a patch of woods in their town known as Rousseau Forest from development. McNally spent her savings and Reed borrowed from her mortgage line of credit. Part of the money also went to printing costs and to an environmental lawyer who had helped guide the group without charge for over three years. “He easily gave us over $60,000 of pro bono work.” The group also raised roughly $400 through a GoFundMe campaign and money earned from a musical fundraiser was used to incorporate the Pincourt Vert group as a non-profit charity.
Another difficult aspect to quantify with a price tag is the amount of research that went into the ordeal and constantly reaching out to community members to advocate for the importance of the forest.
“There’s a lot of armchair Facebook activism but it’s hard to get people involved. And the municipalities do not help. We had to use the Freedom of Information act to get anything from the town.”
THE JOURNAL FILE PHOTO/CARMEN MARIE FABIO
Notre Île Nature, a non-profit registered charity staffed by volunteers and funded with donations, was formed following the news that five new housing developments in Notre-Dame-de-l’Île-Perrot were going ahead, some on environmentally sensitive plots of land.
Notre Île Nature
Though still in its initial phase, Notre Île Nature (NIN), based in Notre-Dame-de-l’Île-Perrot was formed following the town’s revelation of plans for new housing developments – the first 17-house project which is currently underway on 64th Avenue and the second at 1210 Blvd Perrot where tree-cutting began in mid-April.
NIN co-administrator Amanda Shaw-Yagoub said it’s still early days so their expenses haven’t been as high. But with help from a GoFundMe account, the group was able to pay for the printing of cardboard door hangers that were distributed to every house in the town informing residents of the upcoming housing developments. The distribution network, along with the biologists who are also co-administrators of the non-profit federally registered charity, are all volunteers.
“We’re encouraging citizens to make a donation (to the GoFundMe group),” said Shaw-Yagoub. “These should be collective costs, but when the current town administration does not have the same priorities as the citizens, it's up to individuals to contribute, whether that be their time or money, and turn things around.”
“One of the things that really troubles me is that our mayors, for the most part, are illiterate when it comes to the in-depth principles of sustainable development which absolutely require conservation,” said Coalition Verte Vice President and spokesperson David Fletcher.
The 2019 – 2023 Strategic Plan of the Ministère de l'Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques (MELCC) states their mission is, “…to contribute to the sustainable development of Quebec by playing a key role in the fight against climate change, environmental protection and conservation of biodiversity for the benefit of citizens.” It also recognizes that, “Citizen mobilizations in favour of the fight against climate change and environmental protection are multiplying and intensifying. The impacts of climate changes are becoming more and more visible and weakening access to certain natural resources.
“The pressure should be on the communities around the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal (CMM) to secure what is left,” said Fletcher. Most of the Vaudreuil-Soulanges municipalities fall under the CMM umbrella.
“Any development project that would have an effect on forested areas should have been deferred until people had time to make proper input. The mayor of Notre-Dame-de-l’Île-Perrot is quite obviously illiterate when it comes to matters of the environment,” Fletcher added. The Quebec Sustainability Act, sections E and F respectively state, ‘Participation and commitment’: The participation and commitment of citizens and citizens' groups are needed to define a concerted vision of development and to ensure its environmental, social and economic sustainability; and ‘Access to knowledge’: Measures favourable to education, access to information and research must be encouraged in order to stimulate innovation, raise awareness and ensure effective participation of the public in the implementation of sustainable development.
“To our provincial government’s discredit, they’re not holding any of these municipalities to account,” said Fletcher.
Quebec Green Party
While most community organizations and charities are eligible for some government funding, it usually comes with the caveat that there are limits on what the groups are allowed to do in terms of advocacy.
“A longstanding demand of environmental groups was to be able to have a stable source of funding from the government – which was often only renewed once per government – so it kept the environmental groups from being too critical of their elected officials,” said Quebec Green Party Leader Alex Tyrrell. “The Green Party supports funding for certain environmental groups so some of these valid concerns people raise can go forward and end up changing policy decisions.” However, at the snail’s pace that political changes are made, it may not be soon enough for NIN to prevent further development.
Many citizen-based environmental groups are up against corporations, developers, or even pipeline companies with deep pockets and layers of lawyers. “For them, it’s part of their business model to spend money advocating for their projects and even countering the work done by environmental groups,” said Tyrrell. “There are many things stacked against the environmental movement. It’s an uphill battle.”
“You can’t wait until the bulldozers show up,” said McNally. “You have to have a watch-group of citizens to be constantly looking at what their town council is planning. And it becomes a tremendous time-suck.”
Despite the money and time spent saving Pincourt’s Rousseau Forest, McNally said she would do it again in a heartbeat. “We won. We consider it an investment.”
For more information on Quebec’s principles of sustainable development, consult www.environnement.gouv.qc.ca/developpement/principes_en.htm
To access the Notre Île Nature GoFundMe account, go to tinyurl.com/37vustuf