February 21, 2020

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Young climate-change activists take aim at province's all-adult 'youth' council

SHANNON VANRAES / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>17-year-old Courtney Tosh was disappointed when she learned she wasn’t selected for the province’s climate change council, even though she has been part of Manitoba Youth for Climate Action and has helped organize weekly rallies.</p>


17-year-old Courtney Tosh was disappointed when she learned she wasn’t selected for the province’s climate change council, even though she has been part of Manitoba Youth for Climate Action and has helped organize weekly rallies.

Despite interest from dedicated high school student activists, the province has created a youth advisory council on climate made up of nine adult members.

The government announced Tuesday it had chosen — from more than 85 applicants — a mix of students and young professionals from Winnipeg, Minto, Oakbank, Steinbach, Swan River and Thompson.

None are under the age of 18.

The applicants included members of the youth climate-change group that has organized weekly student walkouts — including the Sept. 27 rally that drew more than 10,000 people downtown.

Activist Courtney Tosh said she was disappointed when she learned she hadn’t made the cut. And Tosh, 17, said it turned to frustration and confusion when she learned none of her friends in Manitoba Youth for Climate Action were chosen either.

"This council is kind of the reaction to our big strike we had on Sept. 27, so I thought it was important to take advantage of that," she said.

Former Sustainable Development minister Rochelle Squires announced the government’s intention to create the advisory council that day, when the global climate strike drew thousands downtown to march and demand immediate political action as temperatures climb and ocean levels rise. Squires did not attend the day’s events.

Manitoba Youth for Climate Action, which describes itself as "a non-partisan, youth-led organization that formed out of desperation for government action on climate change," issued a statement Thursday entitled, Provincial Government Creates Youth Council… Without Youth.

The release criticized the province for opening the process to people between the ages of 15 and 25, but selecting only adults, and expressed frustration about the exclusion of young climate activists who have rallied outside the Manitoba legislature every Friday for the last year.

Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard said Thursday the selection committee looked at how familiar applicants were with the Made-in-Manitoba Climate and Green Plan.

"But also, (the committee looked for) a true reflection of the province — all demographics, all areas, because climate change affects us all and we need to hear feedback, not only just from our metropolitan areas, rural too," Guillemard said.

The council will work on a year-to-year basis, she said, adding she understands unsuccessful applicants might be disappointed but encouraged them to reapply next year.

"If they don’t want to give us the opportunity to voice our opinions, we’re going to continue to voice them anyways with our strikes," Tosh said, adding she thinks Manitoba should strive to be a leader among other provinces and adopt and legislate science-based emissions targets.

The Progressive Conservative government has set a target to reduce annual emissions by one megatonne of carbon dioxide equivalent between 2018 and 2022.

The MYCA’s primary demand is for the province to legislate greenhouse gas emission reductions of 65 per cent by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2040.

It’s not clear how the youth council structure will work, but the council will report to the province’s expert advisory committee on Manitoba’s Climate and Green Plan. Chair Colleen Sklar said the adult committee will then bring feedback to the province.


Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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