I took a brief trip over to the Ontario Legislative Assembly a couple of weeks ago, to the Visitor’s Gallery in hopes of viewing debate on third reading of the Cosmetic Pesticides Act. I’ve been working on the pesticide issue since 2001 in Sarnia and then Waterloo. Exciting at first, the Act was eventually passed with opposition from NGOs and health associations who saw disappointments in the details. This was described in a Green Party media release I worked on as a response to its passing, with Environment Issues Advocate Mark MacKenzie.
When I arrived, a small handful of environmentalists including Sarah Harmer joined in the viewing area, but she informed me that the pesticide bill had been delayed until the next day, and they were there to hear introduction of the Lake Simcoe Protection Act by Liberal Minister of the Environment, John Gerretsen. Not many parliamentarians attended, but we chuckled as introductory statements by members related to summer festivals in their ridings, and the beer and wine industries, respectively.
Having been interested to write a few notes on my first visit to the Leg, I was informed that I couldn’t bring a pen and paper, so I left that with the security desk. After the introduction of the bill, which was supported by this group, some light applause from the gallery to the minister was also quieted by a security guard informing us, “no clapping”. Previous to this during the minister’s speech, a Progressive Conservative MPP who I’ll keep nameless kept talking, quite distractingly. Another Conservative recognized a group of older women in an invited guests section as “girls”.
The bill appeared to be drafted with close work with the environmental community and a history of work from members in different parties, but it could cetainly still use some work. NDP Environment Critic Peter Tabuns made useful, targeted points and critiques for strengthening the bill. Even representing Toronto-Centre far from the area, he seemed he had done his research. Two PC members made some criticism but it was generally less coherent or organized.
These two bills proposed to strengthen environmental action in the province leave me with a confusing picture of the McGuinty Liberals. They seem willing to do things, and work with environmentalists in cases where Conservative governments surely have never done so. But I am not convinced that they do choose corporate interests in some cases over that of citizens.
This said, it is important to get involved, because this government has listening capability. I never saw this with Harris. It’s important to get involved period. Al Gore and Elizabeth May speak of the democracy crisis needing to be improved before environmental crises can be. I’d encourage you to take a visit to Ottawa, Toronto, your capital, town hall or city centre to observe, learn and participate in democracy. What a direct, if sometimes frustrating, way of making change. Democracy needs to be enhanced. And seeing how it works is a good way to help you to determine your vote.