November 12, 2019

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Opinion

Environment should be election focus

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Algae blooms cover the shore at Victoria Beach on Aug. 1. The sorry state of Lake Winnipeg has received some attention from candidates during the provincial election campaign.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Algae blooms cover the shore at Victoria Beach on Aug. 1. The sorry state of Lake Winnipeg has received some attention from candidates during the provincial election campaign.

When reading the newspaper or scrolling through our newsfeeds, it seems there is always another devastating story about the environment. The Amazon rainforest is on fire, whales are inexplicably dying and Iceland just held a funeral for the Okjökull glacier, its first lost to climate change.

We are seeing the rollback of environmental protections in our neighbouring country that could have devastating impacts for our own ecosystems. A number of recent UN reports have highlighted the serious consequences of unsustainable human activities, with the sixth Global Environment Outlook concluding that "time is running out to prevent the irreversible and dangerous impacts of climate change."

So why isn’t climate change and the environment being treated as one of the most important issues in this provincial election period? Although climate change is often framed as an international issue, Manitobans are already facing climate-related environmental problems, among a wide range of other local environmental issues.

There has been some recognition of the dire state of Lake Winnipeg, with a number of candidates proposing solutions for its phosphorus problem. Candidates have also addressed issues such as greenhouse gas reductions, single-use plastics, recycling fees and energy efficiency. However, none of the proposed solutions seem to go far enough.

Just ask the next generation of Manitobans, who are desperately calling on government to take bold climate action and secure a livable future. For them, everything depends on the decisions we make today. Why aren’t their environmental concerns being discussed?

There are many pressing environmental issues, beyond climate change, that have not received adequate attention from the candidates we are supposed to trust to lead our province toward a more sustainable future. They include the increase in mineral exploration activities in provincial parks, reduced regulatory oversight of large-scale agricultural operations, lead and heavy metals contaminating our neighbourhoods, water quality concerns for our rivers and lakes, loss of wetlands and peatlands and an overall decline in biodiversity.

It is also important for candidates to recognize the need for more access to government resources for the community and environmental non-governmental organization groups seeking to tackle Manitoba’s environmental issues on their own. An increase in environmental spending during the provincial budgeting exercise is also a must.

The Manitoba Eco-Network is choosing to remain optimistic. Since 1988, the network has promoted positive environmental action by supporting the people and groups in our community that undertake a range of important environmental activities. Regardless of the election outcome, the network plans to continue supporting community-led efforts focused on positive environmental change.

We also hope to lend a stronger voice, and better support the voices of others, in ongoing political conversations about the environment.

We all have a role to play in creating a more sustainable future and have the power to decide on Sept. 10 who we want in charge of our province, our environment and our future. We urge you to get involved by:

● Attending the Forum for Our Future: Manitoba Leaders Debate on Climate Change and The Environment on Thursday, Sept. 5, at 7 p.m. at the Fort Garry Hotel;

● Checking out each party’s platform on climate change and the environment;

● Talking to the candidates about the environment. Give your local candidates a call or chat with them when they visit your home. Ask them about their party’s environmental platforms and share your concerns;

● Telling your friends and family online why you care about the environment using the hashtags #MyHealthOurEnviro #EnviroStoryMB #voteclimate and #tag2people;

● Using your voting power on Sept. 10 to support provincial candidates who recognize the importance of improving environmental protection and conservation efforts in Manitoba; and

● Supporting local youth leaders by joining them at the Manitoba legislature at noon on Sept. 27 for the Global Climate Strike.

"Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air or drink the water. Don’t sit this one out. Do something." — Carl Sagan

Heather Fast is the policy committee chair and Glen Koroluk is executive director of the Manitoba Eco-Network.

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