National Day of Action’s urgent message: ‘We are on fire!’

Rally attendees calling for immediate action on the part of the provincial and federal governments held signs referring to the planet burning up, a reference to global warming and climate change, as well as to the most devastating year for wildfires in Canada’s history. This occurred on Wednesday, Jun. 28, 2023, a day Environment Canada, Public Health agencies, and the Ontario Air Quality Health Index — among others — had issued warnings for Kingston and the area due to smoke blanketing the area as a result of wildfires in northern Ontario and Quebec. Photo by Kingstonist.

Seniors for Climate Action Now (SCAN!) Kingston, along with members of 350 Kingston, held a rally at Kingston City Hall over the noon hour Wednesday, Jun. 28, 2023. Rallies in some 30 cities are being held to demand that government and industry stop “fuelling the flames of climate chaos,” according to a release by SCAN!.

SCAN! is a seniors organization calling for cutting Canada’s carbon emissions by at least 60% by 2030, the phase-out of fossil fuels, a just transition to a low carbon economy and a  responsible role in supporting developing countries in a transition to a low carbon world.

Phyllis Waugh addresses those in attendance at the rally, surrounded by signs and banners. Photo by Kingstonist.

“We need hard caps on emissions and an immediate end to fossil fuel subsidies. We need to shift to 100 per cent renewable energy, while generating unionized jobs and following Indigenous leadership,” said Phyllis Waugh, a member of SCAN! who was in attendance at the rally. “The wildfire season in Canada officially begins this Saturday, but we are already witnessing the worst wildfires in Canadian history.”

She also indicated that, as wildfires drove people from their homes, Ontario Premier Doug Ford refused in the Legislature to link the record wildfires to climate breakdown, telling the Legislature that fires “happen every year.” 

Dr. Kyla Tienhaara, the Canada Research Chair in Economy & Environment at Queen’s University, attended and addressed the crowd, saying, “Canada is on fire because a very small group of people made choices… to profit from selling a product, even though they knew that product threatened the future of all life on earth. They chose to lie and manipulate and disinform the public so that they could keep selling this product. They even convinced governments, including Canada’s, to subsidize the production and consumption of this product to the tune of billions and billions of dollars a year.”

That product, Dr. Tienhaara emphasized, is fossil fuels, “Coal. Oil. Gas… Fossil fuels are killing the planet and fossil fuel executives are to blame. So are the bank executives – especially David McKay, the head of RBC, the biggest funder of fossil fuel projects… in the world.” 

“I know it doesn’t have to be this way,” she noted. “Canada is on fire because bank and fossil fuel CEOs are acting as though their profits are more important than anything, including my daughters’ right to breathe clean air. And our governments are letting them get away with it.”

Since 2019, after Kingston became Ontario’s first municipality to declare a climate emergency, local activists have been urging governments to act. They have also campaigned for divestment from banks that support oil and gas projects.  

In May, the office of Member of Parliament for Kingston & The Islands Mark Gerretsen was the site of a SCAN! rally, explained Waugh, saying that the MP responded with a letter and petition “calling for bold emission caps in the oil and gas sector.” SCAN! urged those in attendance at the rally to sign that petition.

As well, SCAN! has written its own open letter to the governments of Canada and Ontario titled “Canada is on fire!”, and collected additional signatures for it from members of the public, over 100 SCAN! members, and over 400 members of 350 Kingston.

That letter reads in part, “In recent days, the majority of Canada’s population has been exposed to toxic smoke threatening the health of the elderly, people with disabilities, those who are pregnant, and the young. And increasingly Indigenous People are being displaced from their communities.”

This sentiment was echoed in comments from Dr. Tienhaara. “The first time that I fitted my daughters with N95s [masks], the dominant emotion that I experienced was fear. ‘Please let this keep them safe from the virus’, I repeated over and over in my head. When, a few weeks ago, I handed each of them a mask as they exited the school where they had been shut in all day to protect them from toxic wildfire smoke, all I felt was anger. Anger, because I know that it didn’t have to be like this. Canada is on fire because bank and fossil fuel executives are acting as though their profits are more important than anything, including my daughters’ right to breathe clean air, and our government is letting them get away with it.”

Dr. Kyla Tienhaara, the Canada Research Chair in Economy & Environment at Queen’s University, speaks to those in attendance. Photo by Kingstonist.

SCAN!’s open letter further states, “Every year the situation gets worse. This is costing lives lost and untold financial setbacks. Governments have declared the importance of halting climate warming. Six hundred and forty-nine municipalities have declared a climate emergency across Canada, including many municipalities in Ontario. Yet the Canadian government continues to support the expansion of the oil and gas industries. The Ontario provincial government is expanding gas plants and attacking the natural environment (a buffer against climate warming impacts).”

The letter calls on the Government to do the following:

  • Establish a national emergency agency with full funding to mobilize all forces across the country to react to crises
  • Expand our fire fighting services
  • Create a Youth Climate Corps and/or Civilian Climate Corps to provide help to vulnerable populations to survive increasingly difficult life circumstances
  • Expand the role of the national defence forces in assisting with emergency action such as fire fighting and flood relief
  • Create a refuge for vulnerable populations – such as emergency centres with clean air,  that can act as cooling centres and provide refuge during disasters like fires and flooding

“No more playing politics. We need you to act,” the letter ends.

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