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Seniors pay tax credit forward to help rescue environmental non-profits

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When Dave Elmore first heard the province was sending a $200 tax credit to all seniors, regardless of need, his first thought was "why?"

In this, the 65-year-old cyclist and environmental advocate wasn't alone. Ever since the province unveiled the $45 million seniors economic recovery credit, the program has drawn questions: while seniors are most at risk from the health impacts of COVID-19, the economic fallout has landed more heavily on other demographics.

Meanwhile, Elmore was alarmed to learn that several local environmental non-profits are set to have their provincial funding slashed. So when those groups reached out to supporters for help, Elmore was quick to sign on -- both by donating his own cheque, and by spreading the word.

"It was an obvious thing to do," Elmore says. "It just made so much sense to try and help them out at a time when virtually all of their funding has disappeared."

Now, Elmore and other like-minded folks are launching Manitoba Seniors for Sustainability, a campaign to encourage donations to those local environmental non-profits: the Green Action Centre, which supports sustainable living efforts such as waste reduction, as well as Climate Change Connection and the Manitoba Eco Network.

The campaign has a goal, which is to raise $360,000 for the groups -- the same amount, they say, as the funds that were cut by the province. They have a new Twitter account, @mbseniors4sust, and a Facebook group to help encourage other seniors to donate, if they are able.

And they have a hashtag, #mbseniors4sust, under which they encourage seniors to post photos of themselves doing environmentally friendly things — biking, for instance, or composting — as well as testimonials of why they place value on ecological causes and sustainable living.

"We’ve got another huge crisis on our hands with climate change, and we really can’t afford to lose these organizations," Elmore says. "If they fail completely they may not come back, and we really can’t afford to have that happen."

The founding members are no strangers to this type of effort. All are longtime social and environmental advocates, many with links to the impacted organizations. Elmore worked at the Green Action Centre for six years before his retirement; campaign co-founder Peter Miller is a former Green Action Centre board member and volunteer.

So when Miller, 83, learned of the seniors' cheques, he knew right away he would donate his to the Centre. Like others involved in the campaign, he believes the program is "missing the mark" when it comes to addressing the needs of Manitobans, especially coupled with funding cuts to other programs.

"(The province) is pressing forward on its austerity agenda," Miller says. "There’s been very little in the way of economic support for those in need, and for the climate crisis which existed before COVID, and is still here, and will continue after the COVID crisis is over.

"It’s not as though you can put one crisis on hold when another one arises."

Another founding member is Muriel Smith, who in 1981 became the first woman in Canada to serve as a deputy premier. Smith, who celebrated her 90th birthday earlier this month, and has spent decades in social advocacy; paying her seniors' cheque forward and joining the campaign is one way she can still help out, she says.

"It’s not a huge organization, it’s going word of mouth, but that’s the way activist ideas have always spread," Smith says. "I want to do something that is constructive, as we’re beset with so much difficult news. Activists have always acted a bit on faith, but it’s better than doing nothing."

Smith had originally planned to donate her senior cheque to Winnipeg Harvest; she'll still be making that donation too. In the meantime, she says, Manitobans must not lose sight of the climate crisis, even while it wrestles with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It’s one of those slow-changing things, but relentless," Smith says. "It’s hard to give it the attention it deserves. It underpins everything that we do in the future for our kids and grandkids, and for me, great-grandkids. For us, it’s trying to not desert an issue just because it’s fallen out of favour."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin
Reporter-at-large

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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