What the day meant to me …

I remember the first time I talked to a fiery Mary Gorman on the phone, as a new staff person at the Atlantic Canada office, her impassioned narrative about the need to protect the Gulf of St. Lawrence from oil and gas development was inspirational.  It made me excited to work with her and others from the Save our Seas and Shores Coalition.  That phone call was in 2010, and over the past five years I have many fond memories of our campaign to protect of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

During our 2013 AGA in Prince Edward Island, we had a panel which Mary but also scientist Irene Novaczek spoke about the growing dead zones in the Gulf, the uniqueness of the ecosystem.  Over the past two years, our efforts focused on the Blue Whale, an endangered species that calls the Gulf Home, whose migratory pattern is at risk if the Old Harry oil development goes ahead.  Zack Metcalfe, a Sierra intern, went to several schools, wrote articles, all promoting the Blue Whale.  By doing so we were able to create a love of the species and of its habitat.  Our Blue Whale naming competition was very powerful with lots of grassroots participation which led to Iris, the Blue Whale being named.

I tell you this, because on October 26, 2015, I stood on a bank looking over the Northumberland Strait in Antigonish.  I was part of the water ceremony which was hosted by Paq’tnkek community, and which actor, Ethan Hawke participated.  The crowd had assembled over the need to save our Gulf of St. Lawrence from oil and gas exploration.  There was a crowd, and the media was present, and the news reached the national media.  My journey there started much earlier than my 8:00 am departure from my home in Saint John.  My journey started in 2010 with the phone call from Mary Gorman.

Mary’s journey started earlier than that, in the late nineties Save our Seas and Shores fought with the Nova Scotia Petroleum Board against development of off shore drilling near the coast of Cape Breton.  We have been journeying, calling for a moratorium on oil development in the Gulf for years. 

It was wonderful to see Mary Gorman, to hear her speak passionately about her long journey as part of the press conference.It was wonderful to see Irene Novaczek, as well as so many other familiar faces from across the Atlantic provinces working together on this.It was great to have a celebrity, Ethan Hawke, take time out of his filming schedule to, in his own words, be a good neighbour and speak passionately about our need to protect our waters within equitable partnership with Indigenous peoples.  It was nice to see our Gulf of St. Lawrence get some press coverage on major networks across the country.  It was also bittersweet, I am sad that after decades of really exceptional work our Gulf of St. Lawrence is still “open for business”, that we continue to manage a very connected ecosystem as though provincial boundaries count when it comes to oil spills. Also that our offshore boards are regulating from a bias of development, their membership often comprised by a petroleum industry insiders.

This fall, we elected a new government, we called for change.  I believe the Gulf of St. Lawrence needs to be off limits for oil and gas development.  I believe that we need serious changes to the petroleum board model to ensure that development of our natural resources is done is a sustainable way.  I am going to speak to my MP about the need for the Gulf to be on the list of priorities.  I invite you to use this amazing day, this water ceremony, as a call to action to do the same.  Ask your MP to put our Gulf of St. Lawrence and its future, its protection from Oil and Gas development to on his/her radar.  I have enjoyed the journey, I will remember the people, but it’s time for the Gulf to be protected from oil and gas development, it’s time for real change.

Join Me,

Emma Hebb

Chair, Sierra Club Canada Foundation – Atlantic Canada Chapter