A frank discussion of Canada, the environment and Sierra Club Canada Foundation

BENNETT BLOG / December 22, 2014

Reflecting is a good thing this time of year. First, I want to thank you for your support and apologize for being so annoying with my constant demands.

Then, give a big sigh of relief…we got through yet another year without being silenced. It is a real concern - many organizations have audits hanging over their heads and others fear they will be next. It can have a chilling effect, and we have felt the chill, examined our operations and made numerous administrative changes…but we will not be silenced. We will continue to speak out--that is our role.

We were targeted by (un)EthicalOil.org in 2012 and 2013--they wanted the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) to shut us down--but not this year. Perhaps it’s because bullies generally fade away when you stand up to them.

The CRA chill has caused many foundations to turn away from advocacy and invest in other kinds of environmental work. They may fear the government or just believe the chances of stimulating change in today’s Canada are limited. We used to rely on individuals to support our capacity to approach large foundations, and foundations to cover the costs of programs. In today’s world, we must rely on your support and generosity more than ever before. It’s not cliché—it’s the new normal, unfortunately.

There is an endless discussion in the environmental movement about the ‘theory of change’ and best methods. Sierra Club has its own ideas in this realm as well. We do have an intellectual basis for how we act. We believe in a broad movement working for a common fundamental goal, but not attempting to be in lock-step (or spending too much of our time talking to ourselves).

Sierra’s role is to know the story, then share it intelligently and coherently with the right audiences (starting with the public, and then the decision makers and media).

Timing is also very important, so we deliberately stay flexible. I’d like to talk about it in terms of opportunity. Sometimes you can make opportunities directly, sometimes indirectly and sometimes they just pop-up in front of you. You always need to be ready. Sierra applied this approach religiously in my many years working with Elizabeth May, and I hope we are still somewhere close to the standards she set.

We used to execute this strategy entirely through traditional media: newspapers, radio and TV. Today, I spend more time speaking directly to you than the media. We used to spend hours clipping newspapers and ordering tapes to document our campaigns. Now it's hits, clicks, views, follows, shares, retweets and likes. The world certainly has changed.

Overall, we are happy with our progress in 2014, particularly the success of our #SaveTheBees campaign (despite our tiny budget and human resource limitations). The recently announced government action in Ontario is a huge step forward in protecting our birds, bees and other pollinating critters. Dedication, timeliness and—most important—flexibility helped us achieve that accomplishment. On flexibility…we were able to quickly reorient our campaign plans when the bee carnage started because all our time was not pre-tied up in reporting and deliverables associated with foundation funding.

While this flexibility approach is successful, needless to say it isn’t what foundations are looking for, and the end result is that few foundations will (can) contribute to our important work. It’s a double edged sword; damned if you do, (the bees) damned if you don’t.

In closing, not everything we do ends up in the news and there are other reasons to support the Sierra Club Canada Foundation. We exposed the idiocy of Health Canada’s $1.5 million study of the health impacts of wind turbines (which was really only about meddling in Ontario rural politics). We were alone in speaking out and challenging the insanity.

If you are concerned about endangered species, and who isn’t, you should know the Federal Environment Minister hates the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and we’ve been tracking (and exposing) her every move. She has:

  • cancelled the last two meetings of the SARA Advisory Committee (which includes business, landowners and conservationists including Sierra Club);
  • interfered with the appointment of scientific chairs of the groups studying individual species; and
  • rebuked any scientists who’ve publicly spoken about the SARA.

With only has 6-8 months left before the next election to gut endangered species protection, do you want Sierra around to raise the alarm when she executes her final attempt to dismantle species at risk protection in Canada?

On another topic, a few weeks back the Prime Minister said regulating the oil and gas industry’s greenhouse gas emissions is “crazy economic policy” (after promising such a policy since 2006). Back then times were too good for the regulations, and now times are too bad. What I think is crazy economic policy is throwing our children under the climate change bus.

While these are completely separate issues, they are tied together by a common denominator: the “my way or the highway” approach to governing. Our concern for climate, species and bees--any issue, really—are deemed nothing more than annoyances by such regimes (including ours).

I guess where I’m going here is that I’m hoping you can make a substantial year-end donation. Not only will you help us continue our important work through 2015, you’ll be able to get a tax receipt!

Have a safe, healthy and happy holiday (and Happy New Year!).


John Bennett, National Program Director
Sierra Club Canada Foundation
1510-1 Nicholas Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 7B7
John on Twitter / Bennett Blog