Long before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler. Before that nail-biter of a hockey game. Before any of that was even thought about, I must say that I have thanked my lucky stars each and every night for the good luck of being born Canadian.
I love the way I can drink water straight from the tap. I love that I can live in a big city yet get myself to the wilderness on a Saturday morning for a sunrise hike.
I love the way when, my Dad had heart problems while on vacation on the Sunshine Coast – he was helicoptered to Saint Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, operated on, and returned to us in better shape than ever – all free of charge.
So what I do for a living may come as a bit of a surprise. I am a professional protester.
I work for an environmental organization, the Wilderness Committee, as its National Campaign Director. We conduct grass-roots education campaigns that advocate for more nature protection, more park lands and better laws to protect fish and wildlife.
In my day to day work I photograph endangered wilderness areas, write educational brochures, do media interviews and of course – protest. I protest a lot.
It may seem weird that one so happy as I – would be protesting in many cases, governments representing the very nation that I profess to love.
Name a thing you really love about Canada, and I’ll bet dollars to Tim Horton’s donuts that protest signs, banners and rallies had something to do with it. If you want good stuff done, you need a citizenry ready willing and able to get off it’s collective butt and do a little protesting from time to time.
Most Canadians have heard of Tommy Douglas, that skinny guy with the gift of the gab from Saskatchewan. Fifty years ago he turned the protests of a nation sick with the high cost of being sick into the beginnings of the Canadian public health care system that we are so proud of today. But Tommy couldn’t have done any of it without thousands of people willing to speak up in protest of the pay as you go system that was killing off those who couldn’t afford to pay.
Next time you pour yourself a glass of water anywhere in Metro Vancouver – take a close look.
Back in the 1920s locals were protesting the logging that was ripping apart the forested valleys that produced the water. One Ernest Cleveland, riding the political wave caused by the protesters, rose to the challenge, and was given control of the watersheds by the government of the day. Ernest shut down the logging and then proclaimed “they will log those watersheds over my dead body”. Ernest kept his promise until his death in the mid 1950s.
By the 1960s the logging companies had wormed their way back into Vancouver’s watersheds and the big trees were coming down again. So were the mountain sides as the denuded slopes melted into muddy torrents every November. Vancouverites looked at their murky water glasses and fumed. But by the late 1980s a new generation of protesters had risen again! The beginning of 1990s saw the end of logging in the watersheds – and a clearer future in our drinking glasses.
In fact, all across BC the so-called tree wars of the 1980s and 90s resulted in some mighty fine areas being protected. The protesters of that era made it possible for people today to enjoy such amazing wild places as Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, Meares Island Tribal Park, Valhalla Provincial Park, Stein Valley Heritage Park, Skagit Provincial Park, Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park and the Elaho Conservancy to name a few.
So what’s scrawled on my protest signs these days? Save BC’s wild rivers! All in all hundreds of rivers have been claimed by a myriad of private interests, with many plans in the works to dam and divert them. Publicly owned BC Hydro used to pour millions of dollars into the public coffers, which would then go to things like running the public health care system. Now the money flows to the private power companies.
I believe that this nightmare power play for our rivers can be stopped by the power of – you guessed it – protest! In 2008 over 1,000 people came out to protest a plan to dam and divert all eight tributaries of the Upper Pitt River, a major Lower Mainland salmon river. The BC government killed the project the following day. Similar huge crowds in the Kootenays appear to have stopped the proposed Glacier Howser private river diversion project. And the monstrous project being proposed by General Electric and Plutonic Power in the Bute Inlet area to dam and divert up to 17 rivers has been stalled for at least a year, due to strong public opposition.
Dam protesters? It’s the Canadian way … eh!